A Trip to Hong Kong: Two Versions of Roast Goose

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By one of those strange alignment of stars, DC and I were on overlapping business trips to Hong Kong. A bit of canny planning brought us together over the weekend at the achingly modern and very comfortable Langham Place Hotel. The only problem in getting there was that I didn’t realise that there were two “Langhams” in Kowloon, one the Langham Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and the other the Langham Place Hotel in Mongkok.

After a bit of confusion, I finally got to the hotel and DC took me to Sham Tseng Chan Kee Roasted Goose Restaurant (深井陳記燒鵝茶餐廳). He informed me that Yung Kee was off the menu for this trip as he’d been and the standard of roast goose was abysmal compared to its price. So this place it was and we proceeded to order the roast goose noodles.

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Sure, the soup was full of msg, but the noodles were firm and springy and the goose. Mmm… the first piece of goose I put in my mouth was tender and flavourful. The fatty, savoury juices from the drumstick flowed beautifully with each bite. It’s a pity that not every piece of the drumstick was as tender. The skin was soggy – we couldn’t salvage it in time before it all sank into the soup. Still, for about HK$40 (S$6), this was a fantastic welcome to Hong Kong.

Sham Tseng Chan Kee Roasted Goose Restaurant (深井陳記燒鵝茶餐廳)
Reclamation Street, Mongkok 旺角新填地街427-427A號 behind Langham Place Hotel

DC promised me something better for dinner, something worth dressing up for. So I changed out of my denim civvies, slipped on a black dress and we headed downstairs to Ming Court Restaurant. It’s fantastic to have a 2-Michelin star restaurant right in the hotel. Disappointingly, it seemed like everyone else was dressed down, so not quite as posh as expected. But that was hardly a downer as the service was friendly and not at all snooty like you’d expect for a starred restaurant. (Yes it helps to speak even a smidgen of Cantonese.)

We dithered a while on which dishes to order. Greedy as we are, we realise that our stomachs nonetheless have finite capacities (sad to say, mine more so than DC’s). It went without saying that we would have the roast goose – chiu-chow style roasted goose (HK$148 or S$25). It’s almost a pity it came first as it was the star of the show. The best roast goose in our combined experience, and that’s saying something. Check out how tender the meat is in the pic below.

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One angle not enough? Look at this pic. See how crisp the skin is? And the thin sliver of fat under the skin? It was a sublime experience as each morsel was perfectly tender. I could taste both the slightly gamey flavour of the goose and the spices of the marinade in each bite. Then there was the wonderfully crisp skin; we were so glad that we asked for the drumstick portion with a higher skin to meat ratio. And something most amazing that put this in a class of its own: the marrow was still tender. It’s hard enough to roast a bird so that the meat is tender and the skin crisp, let alone stop the marrow from drying out. This goose scores full marks in our books.

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The rest of the meal simply paled in comparison after the goose. The vegetables were on the soggy side. I’m not sure if vegetables in Hong Kong cook down soggier or it’s just the style of cooking. I’ve had better vegetables elsewhere.

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And then the lowest point of the dinner. This was a gold award winning dish from 2010 – pan-fried chicken skin filled with minced chicken and black truffles, accompanied with sliced pumpkin (HK$288 or S$50). The first piece was interesting, with crisp pumpkin at the bottom and a very slight hint of black truffle in the sauce. Too bad the chicken skin wasn’t crisp as it was sandwiched between the meat and the pumpkin. My preference was to keep the skin on top to preserve the crispness for longer. There was also way too much for the two of us to work through that dish of maybe eight pieces. We really wanted to like this but it was too cloying and monotonous after the first piece. Next better player please.

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And a next better player did indeed step up. The signature fried rice. I hear you readers cry, “What? Fried Rice?! At a Michelin starred restaurant?” Let me explain. This version, fried rice with silky chicken, crispy conpoy and shao xing wine, served in a casserole (HK$198 or S$35) was made with black chicken and pine nuts, fried beautifully together, and placed in a hot claypot to accentuate the wok hei. The chicken was indeed silky as mentioned in the menu description and there was plenty of smokey charred flavour. The best part was the layer of “fan jiu” (飯燋) or burnt rice at the base of the claypot. Beautiful.

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By the end of our dinner, I was so stuffed by the rich food that I couldn’t handle any heavy dessert. Very unwisely, we didn’t take any of our friendly waiter’s recommendations. They were mainly fried or incredibly rich, like deep fried egg fritters, birds nest soup, giant longevity bun stuffed with lotus paste and salted egg yolk. And we ordered osmanthus jelly with wolfberry. While it was very pretty, it was nonetheless a foolhardy choice as the jelly was too sweet and rather too firm for my liking.

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Altogether, the meal was good with a modest damage done of HK$1000 or S$160 including tip. The downer was the overly oily and too monotonous chicken and pumpkin dish. We would definitely order something more classically Cantonese next time, and maybe save a bit of space for a richer dessert. And the roast goose? I’ll fly to Hong Kong just to eat that again.

Ming Court
Langham Place Hotel
555 Shanghai Street, Mongkok,
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 3552 3300

Guan Hoe Soon

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My uncle took us to Guan Hoe Soon, apparently a venerable institution of Peranakan food. I didn’t have the best memories of them at my last visit there many years ago, but this time, Guan Hoe Soon redeemed itself with excellent renditions of sambal prawns ($12), beef rendang ($12) and sambal timun (complimentary starter). The prawns were fresh and sweet, and the sambal was topnotch, flavourful and well-balanced so that it was hard to tell exactly what went into the sauce. The beef rendang was tender, a rarity for this dish, and again with very well-balanced flavours. I liked also how they did the sambal timun so simply and well, because a lot of places take the attitude that free starters are a take-it-or-leave-it affair.

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The ngoh hiang ($10) and sambal kangkong ($10) were decent, but nothing special to travel for. The ayam buah keluak ($12) was a disappointment, partly because they mixed the buah keluak with meat but mainly because the sauce was rather anaemic.

Other than that, the desserts were decent. Most order the cendol ($3.50), which the others reported to be good.

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I had the sago gula melaka ($3.50), which was, again, decent but not worth going back for. I wasn’t sure about the ice ball because it took way too long to chip through and tended to freeze the sago to unappetisingly hard little blobs. Otherwise, the gula melaka was nice and thick and I think the coconut milk freshly squeezed.

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Come here if you’re in the East, on a budget, and have a craving for Peranakan food.

Guan Hoe Soon
38 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: +65 6344 2761

Quick Eats: 7th Storey Steamboat

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DC and I met up after work to go for a run at Marina Barrage but we got rained out. What better to do than the next best thing there: eat. 7th Storey Steamboat moved here from the now-demolished site at Bugis. It still serves the same charcoal steamboat and we opted for the pomfret set ($48). They gave us a rather large and very fresh half pomfret all sliced up, with a separate plate of fresh vegetables and two raw eggs.

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Into the charcoal steamboat it all went, the spout shooting fire for the first 10 minutes of cooking. We enjoyed the freshness of the ingredients and the tasty soup. There was more than plenty for two and it was very healthy too… until you factor in the chicken rice that we ordered. The restaurant also sells chicken rice and we opted for that instead of plain white rice. The rice, having been cooked in chicken stock and fat, was aromatic and went exceedingly well with the steamboat.

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In summary, fresh food, yummy chicken rice and an authentic charcoal steamboat on a rainy evening by the barrage made for a very satisfying meal indeed.

7th Storey Live Seafood and Charcoal Steamboat
Marina Barrage, 8 Marina Gardens Drive, #01-05/06
Tel: +65 6222 7887 / +65 6222 9880
Email: 7thstorey@sunrestaurant.com

Zhuge Liang Restaurant

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We were in the Jalan Besar area and decided to check out Zhuge Liang Restaurant, specialising in Sichuanese kaoyu (literally, barbecued fish). The difference here is that the fish is cooked in two steps: barbecued first, then simmered in a spicy broth at the table. It’s quite unlike the usual idea of a barbecue. Here, it’s done fairly well and in a pretty mild broth compared to its competitors in other parts of town. We ordered the patin fish ($38) and had it done pao jiao (literally, soaked peppers) style and wondered how spicy it’d be. Not that much, because it turned out that pao jiao meant brined peppers, which mellowed the spice a great deal. The fish was smooth textured and tasty, and the broth was full of leek, cucumber and celery. We added some tang oh vegetables ($2) to complete the dish.

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We also ordered some chicken ($18) to complete the meal. This one is called the tao yuan xiong di lian (literally, peach garden brotherhood), which was skewers of chicken and soft bone in a far spicier sauce than the fish. It too came in a hotpot of sorts, this time not in a broth but a spicy sauce. If only the fish had been in this sauce, I’d’ve liked it so much better! Still, the chicken was done very nicely, the soft bone gave a surprisingly moreish texture to the skewers, half-chewy and half-crunchy, which I liked.

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To wash everything down, we had a very light Harbin beer ($6) that came ice cold and rounded off the meal nicely.

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Be warned, though, that this restaurant has no English menu and the (very attentive and lovely) wait staff are from PRC, I doubt they speak English. Ask for the menu with pictures if your Chinese isn’t up to scratch. The staff were super sweet and accommodating in trying to make sure the food was to our taste and the standard of service was one of the best I’ve had in a long time, notwithstanding the feeling that we were in China. I say that eating in a place that reminds me of China restaurants isn’t a bad thing at all.

Zhuge Liang Restaurant
27 Foch Road #01-02 Hoa Nam Building
Tel: +65 6396 8858

Pizzeria Mozza

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It’s not easy to get a table at Mozza. The first time we went, it was an impomptu treat from a regular and we had no idea of the privilege we had then. The next time, we called, hoping to get a reservation for the following evening, only to be told that we had to wait till the week after. So wait we did, and it didn’t disappoint. Make  sure you order lots of antipasti, they’re generally very good. We started with the chicken livers, capers, parsley and guanciale bruschetta ($17). The coarsely chopped liver paste on crisp toast is one of my favourite starters here, I love the not-quite pate texture of silky yet not completely smooth. The bacon crisp on top of guanciale (apparently bacon made from pork cheek) really was gilding the lily. Yummy. If you have space, also try the fagiole one, that’s pretty decent too.

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It seems a bit of an overkill to order bread to go along with our starters especially after the bruschetta, but the  fett’unta ($6) was really quite something. It’s a peasant-style bread cooked in a pan with olive oil to a very crisp crust, very yummy but also on the oily side. Eat with plenty of the next starter…

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… the prosciutto di parma and buffala mozzarella ($32). The buffala was creamy yet not heavy and was the perfect accompaniment to the salty prosciutto. We walloped it all with the bread. If you’re not so keen on ham, try the house made mozzarella with tomatoes, really excellent too.

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The marinated baby peppers with tuna ($16), while decent, was a bit of a weak link. It tasted like a starter on a hotel buffet line, which is not to say it was bad, it simply didn’t blow anything out of the water. Over-priced.

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We went for the pizza with ricotta, oyster mushrooms and shallots ($33). What I like about the pizzas here is that they are made to order and the ingredients are fresh, fresh, fresh. They even make their own ricotta in house. The ricotta was creamy and beautifully yielding, the perfect contrast to the crisp, fragrant bread base. Here, the pizza base is quite substantial, not the same as the thin crust variety that is so a la mode. This way, you get to really taste the bread and remember the pizza is in the end, bread with toppings, rather than toppings on a bread base.

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For dessert, the three of us were quite full from all that bread, so we share the banana gelato pie ($17). It’s basically banana ice cream on a biscuit base that’s topped with whipped cream, dark caramel sauce and plenty of toasted hazelnuts. I liked how it wasn’t as tooth-achingly sweet as the butterscotch budino we tried the last time, but considering how it’s really just a slab of ice cream with caramel sauce and hazelnuts, it’s expensive, no?

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Service-wise, this place is fairly OK as the staff are responsive and quick to take orders. I do, however, have the feeling that it’s not as good as when it first started. Maybe they aren’t able to retain good staff. Aside from that, though, there is this tendency for them to watch our plates like hawks and whip them off once empty, even if others at the table were still enjoying their food. Prevalent as the pratice is, I find that rather rude and offputting. I suppose they train their staff to do that to keep people moving. Doing that encourages people to finish quickly and get out, rather than lingering.

Considering how expensive this place is, I think it really takes away from the experience. I like the food, but I do not like the prices. I suppose one pays for the fresh produce and the privilege of dining at Marina Bay Sands.

Pizzeria Mozza
B1-42/46 Shoppes @ Marina Bay Sands
Tel: +65 6688 8868

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 like  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.

Ayam Penyet Ria

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We found ourselves at Ayam Penyet Ria at Lucky Plaza on recommendation from DC’s friend. The crowds and high turnover rate spoke for themselves and we happily settled in with some drinks. DC’s happy soda wasn’t quite the Southeast Asia backpacker joint variety, it being a very innocent (!) combination of rose syrup and condensed milk topped with 7-Up. Despite the incredible amount of sugar, he seemed to quite like it. My avocado juice started off really well, with plenty of thick avocado pulp mixed with runny gula melaka. Towards the end, it got really bitter as they inadvertently blended some avocado skin into the juice too. I had to get another sweet drink to rinse away the bitter taste!

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We started with some tahu telur, firm beancurd (taukwa) dipped in beaten egg and deep-fried, then topped with peanut sauce (Indonesian style) and garnished with vegetable shavings. It was very decent for fast food, with good quality taukwa and a very nice runny peanut sauce. It was slightly spicy, slightly sweet, yet not quite like satay sauce. Good stuff to start off the meal.

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We went for the more unique dishes and didn’t do the ayam penyet (smashed fried chicken). Instead, DC went for the empal penyet, or smashed beef steak. I was convinced that deep-fried beef was going to be overcooked and tough, but DC’s judgement was true. The beef, being smashed before it was fried, was decently tender and tasty. It went well with the crispy bits and the chilli sauce. Now that chilli sauce was jaw-judderingly spicy, as is typical of ayam penyet chilli. It was also very, very yummy. A lot of super spicy chilli sauces stop at being super spicy and aren’t a great deal more than chilli paste. This chilli sauce actually had flavour aside from simply “very hot”. They’d obviously used good belacan and added other spices that really added to the flavour. Sadly, I couldn’t eat more than a dab or two at a time, but it went well with both fried meat and the accompanying tempeh, tahu and vegetable sides.

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Mine was the lele penyet, or smashed deep-fried catfish. The catfish wasn’t smashed at all, maybe they’re referring to how the scattering of fried crispy bits on top make it look sort of smashed. I don’t know. The accompaniments were the same ones and the chilli sauce the same fabulous stuff. My fish was very excellent. It was succulent on the inside, and really crispy on the outside. I like how they fried it such that I could crunch up much of the fins and tail without having to spit any bones out. Also, with careful dissection, the fish wasn’t too bony. Plus, most of the small ones were soft enough to scoff down together with the tender white meat.

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It’s extremely good value. Treat it somewhat like fast food with slightly higher standards, and be warned that it’s not for chilli wimps!

Ayam Penyet Ria
304 Orchard Road #04-25 Lucky Plaza
Tel: 6235 6390

A Whirlwind Work Trip: 24 Hours in London

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The last leg of our trip was in London. It was a pity that I only had slightly more than 24 hours in one of my favourite cities.

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I didn’t do much in terms of leisure except take photos from my hotel window at High Street Kensington. It was a bit of a shock to come in from high, hot summer in Milan and Paris to a cool welcome in London. I had to put on my jacket to go out, it was that cool. London was the same grey it has always been.

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I was fortunate enough to have an evening off to catch up with old friends, Lucy…

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… and Naseem. They were kind enough to travel all the way to my neck of the woods just to have dinner.

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Lucy chose the very yummy Lebanese restaurant, Falamanki. They had fantastic drinks like this honey and avocado smoothie. The lusciously blended avocado was topped with amazingly fragrant honey and an aromatic sprinkling of ground pistachios. Very good indeed.

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I went on to have the mixed grill, a selection of chicken and lamb marinated and grilled in various ways, accompanied by a tart tabbouleh to cut through the meat. It was good stuff, though not as good as the company I had for the evening. It was lovely to catch up again after so long!

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Falamanki
221 Kensington High Street

It was a long, tiring and sometimes gruelling trip, what a lovely way to end it off meeting with old friends.

Crab Biriyani at Heritage Bites

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DC and I took his parents out for Indian. We’d heard about the crab biriyani at Heritage Bites and were very eager to try it out. The restaurant itself has a very understated decor – modern with Indian touches. Its simple layout adds to the spaciousness and helps in getting the attention of the waitstaff. DC started off with a jaljeera, a drink with mint, lime, cumin and chilli. I liked the crispy bits floating at the top, they stayed crispy throughout, which is quite amazing considering it’s soaking in the drink. What I didn’t like was the drink itself. It tasted like watered down green chilli sauce to me. Pass.

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We had some starters to begin the meal, a combination platter of chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, prawn and fish. The morsels were tender and well-marinated, though ultimately not as memorable as the mains.

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For mains, we had the Punjabi mutton dhabewala ($15), which was very tender pieces of goat simmered in a thick tomato-based curry. I didn’t get much of it because DC and his dad slurped most of it up! No great loss to me because I was most enamoured of the palak paneer ($15). It was incredibly smooth and creamy without being heavy, and had a tart tang that made it taste almost like tomato (green tomato?). The paneer (mild yogurt cheese) cubes were just the right consistency of yielding yet chewy to the bite. It was really excellent when wiped up with plain naan ($3), probably the best naan I’ve had in recent memory. It was quite thin and amazingly crisp, yet despite its thinness had a soft, slightly al dente centre. If not for the crab biriyani ($25) that followed, we’d probably have ordered one each. Oh yes, there was another dish with okra – I can’t remember what it was exactly, except that it was decent. Too bad that the other dishes completely stole the show.

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And then the piece de resistance! The crab biriyani is da bomb. It is such a great idea: cleanly shelled crab (no nasty jaw-jarring bits at all!) layered with fragrant basmati rice and cooked to a beautifully spiced finish. Add some curry gravy to moisten the thing and you wouldn’t even miss the raita that they forgot (they later included it in the portion we took home). There was a lot of moist, fresh crab in the biriyani, each spoonful had plenty of crab to feel its texture on the tongue and fully taste the yummy crustaceousness of it. It’s such a great idea for a lighter biriyani. I’m definitely coming back for this.

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We were so stuffed that we had to take back a portion of our crab biriyani. But that didn’t stop us from ordering the jalebies ($8). These little fried dough coils soaked in fragrant syrup were quite special: crisp throughout and not tooth-achingly sweet, the syrup was spiked with some lemon juice to round off our dinner on a yummy sweet-sour note. Be warned that each jalebie is quite small, so it may not be the value you’re looking for.

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Nonetheless, we had a very good deal because the place was running a 40% discount promotion on all orders made between 6-8pm. Get there for your crab biriyani fix!

Heritage Bites
#B1-012 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6837 0858

Really Good Lebanese

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Mum and I were in the Arab Street area sorting out some errands and we wanted something that wasn’t too heavy, like my favourite nasi padang or Moroccan in the area. We stumbled across Beirut Grill and liked both menu and ambiance. I liked how it was brightly lit so I won’t fall asleep over my food (yes I’m very sensitive to low light conditions – even brightish yellow light makes me yawn).

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Yet they added really nice touches with the Arabic/Lebanese decor.

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The food was surprisingly good for a place so styled up. Hey we’re talking Arab Street here where the good looking places are generally crap and the crap looking places have good good food! We started with baba ghanoush and tabbouleh. The baba ghanoush was pretty decent, mushy eggplant dip with crunchy vegetables. I think I’d’ve liked it better if it didn’t have crunchy bits, I guess the baba ghanoush I was expecting came from a different region in the Arab world! The tabbouleh on the other hand was sharp, zesty and very refreshing. I don’t know what they put in the bread, but it was incredibly tasty. I mopped up all the dips (despite the baba ghanoush not being my favourite texture). The taste was quite similar to the kind of vermicelli they like to put in rice in Arabic food. It was addictive!

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Mum and I shared a main, the shish taouk. It was grilled chicken with chicken rice. I liked how flavourful the spiced meat was and enjoyed it with the various sauces. There was a slightly vinegared chilli sauce, a thick garlic one somewhat like aioli and a chilli cream sauce. All were good and helped to disguise the dry chicken breast parts. They really should have used chicken thigh if they couldn’t cook the breast right. The chicken rice was done rather differently from the local version. I liked the subtle flavour and how it wasn’t awash in oil.

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My biggest disappointment was this place was the dessert! I held off on having separate mains just so I could have my favourite baklava, but they didn’t have any. My reasons to return? For the chance to try their baklava and the fabulous bread.

Beirut Grill
72 Bussorah Street
Tel: 6341 7728