June Eating House

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Quite a few friends highly recommend this place, so we thought to take my parents her to see what the fuss is all about. We ordered most of the stuff that friends recommended (thank goodness for facebook!) and had a look round the other tables for ideas too. The food came pretty fast, but the mosquitoes in the open air area got to us faster! Bring mosquito repellent if you do go.

The first dish was the pumpkin prawn, an interesting take on the now-typical salted egg prawn. The prawns were first deep-fried in a light batter, then slathered with a thick savoury pumpkin sauce, full of curry leaf and some salted egg. With fresh, plump prawns, and a great sauce, it was hard to go wrong. If eaten early on, the prawn is crispy enough to be eaten whole, shell and all.

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We saw other tables happily eating the long beans fried with dried shrimp (hae bee) and followed their good example. The beans were done with a deft touch, still crunchy and going incredibly well with the salty, fishy dried shrimp.

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Salted egg crab came next, again done very well. It was first deep-fried and then coated in a dry salted egg sauce. Some bits of the crab were fried so well that you could chomp bits of it down, delicious shell and all. I licked up all the salted egg sauce and the sweet, fresh crab meat inside the shell.

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We couldn’t help but also order the pork trotters. My dad liked it so much that he whacked most of it, leaving the rest of us to quickly take whatever bits we could before he finished off the crispy outside, tender inside pork. The sour chilli sauce cut through the richness, making us hanker for more.

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A reasonably priced zichar place that does deep-fried food very well. Watch out for the mosquitoes though.

June Eating House
315 Tanjong Katong Road
Tel: +65 6345 0301

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

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

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

Lombok: A Trip South to a Very Different Kuta Beach

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DC and I had a rental car and we took it down south to the very sleepy Kuta Beach. We passed by lots of gentle-eyed buffaloes grazing along the road…

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… and ogled at the cute, lighter-coloured calves obliviously munching away.

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At a cafe, there was a sleepy dog that epitomised the laidback atmosphere of the beach. It lay on the trademark peppercorn sand of Kuta Beach.

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Look closely at the sand and you’ll see that the little granules are round, like miniature white peppercorns.

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We later went for a walk along the beach and found more of the peppercorn sand.

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It wasn’t a fantastic white beach, not quite even up to the (not that great) standard of Kuta Beach in Bali. But there were still great views and it was a lovely walk just before the rain started coming in.

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We walked up to a rock outcrop partway out of the beach and found some slightly macabre sights, like the remnants of a heron, perhaps…

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… and the lifelike remnants of a crab’s moult.

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Luckily, there was still some life out here, as evidenced by this cute little lizard skulking its way stealthily along the rocks.

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It was then time to make the bumpy, pot-holed trip back to Mataram. We took respite from the bad road conditions by stopping at a Sasak village to have a look round. The Sasak are the indigenous people of Lombok. They are mainly Muslim and traditionally live in huts with packed-mud floors and roofs thatched with the local long grass, alang-alang. The huts in which they lived I felt were rather nondescript, and the only structure of interest was the bale, or storage shed. Its characteristic structure is the symbol of Lombok and is replicated in concrete and wood all over the main city.

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What’s a village without chickens? This cute little chick was poking around the village grounds with its brothers and sisters, learning how to fend for itself.

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And having had our fill of sleepy beach and equally sleepy village life, we headed back to Mataram. Ibu Rosa at Villa Sayang recommended Restaurant Taliwang, a local place serving up Lombok specialties. I started off with a jumbo-sized coconut drink with honey. It was really good and such a godsend because Lombok food is very spicy!

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We ordered a whole array of dishes like deep-fried tempeh (I couldn’t get enough of it), deep-fried squid, grilled gurami and vegetable soup. All of this was accompanied by copious amounts of the fiery chilli sauce made with local belacan, a kind of fermented prawn paste.

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Belacan, the smelly delight, really came into its own when turned into the local delicacy, kangkung pelecing. Here, toasted grated coconut is piled on top of toasted peanuts, and boiled beansprouts and kangkung. The kangkung is a more tender, heart-shaped leaved version of the Singaporean kangkong. Toasted belacan is worked into a spicy sauce of chilli and tomato (and probably other secret ingredients) and then poured on top of the mound of veggies. The result? An in-your-face explosion of sour, sweet, spicy and fishy that hits the taste buds with a one-two (POW!) blow. Amazing. This is one dish that I have to attempt to recreate soon.

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Rumah Makan Taliwang I
No. 20 Jalan Ade Irma Suryani
Mataram, Lombok
(Ask at Villa Sayang for exact directions)

Modern Thai at Kha

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Hort Park is a special place for DC and me. We go there regularly but never quite during dinner time till this one time we went to Kha, a modern Thai restaurant. It’s run by the same person who does boutique hotels, one of them being Jia in Hong Kong. It’s cute how the names of the two places are linked: “jia” means “home” in Mandarin while in Cantonese, it’s pronounced “ka”. In Thai, kha is a modifier word for females to use at the end of a sentence to make it polite. (The equivalent for males is “khup”.) What a clever way to name the restaurant. I like!

I was pleasantly surprised already when they served the complimentary appetiser. Instead of the typical prawn crackers with sweet chilli sauce, they gave us popped rice biscuits with red curry sauce. It made for a zingy start to the meal.

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We ordered two appetisers and a main so that there’d be space for dessert. First was the crispy catfish with sweet pork and mango salad. It was very good – tangy and slightly spicy with plenty of texture. I’ve always liked the crispy floss-like texture of catfish done this way. They did right not to mess with the classic combination of catfish and young mango strips. I also liked the extra crunch of the peanuts but felt that the pork wasn’t necessary.

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Our second appetiser was banana flower salad with young coconut and chilli. I didn’t like this one as much. It still had the classic sweet-sour-spicy combination so characteristic of Thai salads, but I felt that the texture of banana flower didn’t lend itself well to a salad as it was too “siap siap” – you know that nasty tannic texture, a bit too sappy? The young coconut helped a little but didn’t help much to give interest for flavour. Interesting idea that flopped.

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The main we shared was very good! It was baked half sticky chicken stuffed with coriander and lemongrass, paired with stir fried pineapple rice. The sticky chicken was marinated in some kind of sweet dark sauce hence the stickiness from all that sugar. It tasted Asian but not quite vehemently Thai. The meltingly tender chicken paired nicely with the pineapple rice for a very safe, crowd-pleasing main. I liked how they used some unpolished rice to add flavour and texture. Good call.

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For dessert, we went for the baked pumpkin custard with coconut ice cream. The pumpkin custard is very typically Thai. This version was very nicely made, with smooth silky and not too sweet custard. It went very well with the rich coconut ice cream, a very nice end to the meal.

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Too bad the drinks weren’t as good. We wanted to enjoy the view outside and had our post-dinner drinks there. They tasted as bad as they looked. Don’t drink the aromatic pear mojito – the pear was somehow oxidised and brown; it left a very grainy feel in the mouth. The khao lao rum looked less bad and tasted OK. It was just another sweet drink. Both were very weak, so Kha is not a place for getting smashed.

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My verdict? A nice place for a romantic meal, just skip the drinks. I hear that they are moving soon. It’s a pity as the space is really quite lovely. Check it out soon!

Kha Restaurant
33 Hyderabad Rd
Tel: 6476 9000