136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat

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One night I had a dinner at a new place recommended by my aunt. We had a boisterous family gathering round an eponymous fishhead steamboat. It was chockful of chunky grouper fishhead in a rich, flavourful stock, all augmented by plenty of fresh vegetables and yam. The yam practically melted in the mouth after spending a while in the soup. It was a great dish for sharing in a group.

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To accompany the steamboat were deep-fried pork spareribs that were fairly decent. It was blown out of the water by the next dish.

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I spied this dish at another table and insisted that we order a portion of it: prawn sang meen. The  crispy noodles bathed in thick yet not too gloopy sauce was simply heaven. I don’t recall anywhere else that does the noodles so thin and crisp and plain yummy! The juicy big prawns with plenty of orange milt helped a lot too. I’m still dreaming of this dish.

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Not satisfied by just one serving of crispy noodles, my cousin insisted on another one, this time fish. I don’t know how we could be relatives but this cousin doesn’t even like prawns, hence this version. It had the same to-die-for crispy noodles and yummy sauce, but I felt that the prawn version was far better.

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136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat
291 South Bridge Road
Tel: 8288 3368

Disgruntled Chef

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We were in the Dempsey area and wanted to try something new. Disgruntled Chef fit the bill. It’s a newish place opened by a chef formerly from the White Rabbit. I don’t know about you, but I’m not very sure about the name. Something that conjures up images of an unhappy chef spitting into my food is rather disturbing. Nonetheless, DC and I took the plunge and ordered four small plates and a big plate.

The first was a spinach salad with mirin and eggplant. Decent salad dressing but nasty eggplant that was cold and somehow hard and soggy at the same time. Overpriced and not very nice.

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We were on a steak tartare streak and couldn’t resist going for it. Here, the steak tartare was pretty decent too. It was helped a lot by the very excellent fries, possibly the best in Singapore. I liked how they were just about chunky yet so crisp outside and incredibly fluffy inside. They went absurdly well with the steak tartare. What I didn’t really like about the tartare was how they used half cooked quail eggs in it. I didn’t quite appreciate the texture of the solid egg whites and felt that there wasn’t enough runny egg yolk to go round.

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This was followed by the crackling suckling pig that neither of us found very special as the skin was only just crispy and still on the hard side. I don’t like it when the skin gets stuck in my molars from chewing at it for too long. Oh and the big plate of roasted miso cod was so forgettable we almost wept at how insipid it was. Don’t get me wrong, it was still competently executed. It was just that the dish simply had no soul. All I remember was that the centre of the fish had a strong alcohol smell from the sake marinade. Japanese obviously isn’t the chef’s forte.

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We both agreed that the most inventive, and possibly the best, dish that evening was the baked bone marrow with persillade. I really liked the idea of marrow as pate. The chef did nothing to the marrow itself, leaving its unctuousness to be tempered with the persillade according to the whim of the diner. Trying to figure out how much parsley and garlic paste to match with the marrow was part of the fun of the dish. This is something we’d definitely return for.

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The Disgruntled Chef
26B Dempsey Road
Tel: 6476 5305

Crispy Pata at Katong Village

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DC and I chanced upon this place while parking at Katong Village. We are big fans of unhealthy pork knuckle and were sold when I later saw the restaurant showing off their crispy pata on a TV feature.

Too bad that I couldn’t allow us to just have the crispy pata on its own. We had to have some other dishes to complete the meal. The grilled squid stuffed with vegetables (i.e. tomato and onion) was fairly decent, though I’d prefer it to be a bit more charred for more flavour and texture.

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Then there was the stir-fried mixed vegetables that we ordered for the sake of health and fibre. Nothing to shout about, a typical Filipino style stirfy with long beans, ladies fingers, brinjal, bitter gourd, pumpkin and peppers. Vegetarians do note that it’s almost impossible to get pure vegetarian food here. I was surprised that there were quite a few pork slices in this vegetable dish. It wasn’t mentioned in the description on the menu and neither did the server tell us. Not a big deal for us, we treated it as a bonus.

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And now for the star of the show. The crispy pata was what we were here for! When we ordered, they told us that the crispy pata was sufficient for three or four people and despite this, we carried on to order the other dishes above. Nonetheless, the two of us fell on this dish and polished it all off, it was that good! I don’t know how they made it, but the meat was meltingly, unctuously soft on the inside, with the fat just lightly coating the meat, most of it having dripped off in the cooking process. The skin was robustly crisp and consistently so. The crisp to soft ratio was very satisfying, with enough of both to keep me wanting more. Very excellent. I’d go back there just for the crispy pata.

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Cafe D’Manila
01-19/20 Katong Village, 86 East Coast Road

Au Naturel at Zi Yean

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Zi Yean is one of those newfangled zichar places that serves up rather imaginative dishes. Its name means “natural” in Cantonese and we were rather amused by the very fitting “au naturel” chopstick holders.

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They’re specially printed with the restaurant name on the back even!

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Dinner started off with a very yummy double boiled soup with sea whelk, cordyceps and Sakura chicken. The special was tasty and full of chickeny goodness and umami flavour from the seafood. This is excellent for chasing away a cold. One problem though is that the quality varies from visit to visit. We went there for dinner two nights in a row and on the first night, the soup was perfect. The next night, however, the soup was oversalted, which kinda ruined the flavours. Pity.

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Next up was the spinach in superior broth. I liked how they added century egg and topped it with a sprinkling of crispy silver fish. With smooth, non-gritty spinach, earthy century egg and salty crunchy fish, this made for a killer combination that beats most other places hands down.

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I felt that the honey pork ribs were a bit of a weak link. It was your typical deboned pork rib in sweet sauce, tender enough but nothing in particular to rave about. Perhaps I just don’t particularly fancy sweet savouries.

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The final main dish was the most interesting: crab meat fried with egg white and topped with a raw egg yolk. The dish arrived piping hot and the idea was to quickly stir in the egg yolk so the gooey stuff coated the crab-egg white pieces. I liked the texture a lot as it had varying bits of chewy from the crab pieces and the dried scallop, that  coupled with the softness of the egg white was a winner. I like egg, I like crab, this is dish is kinda hard to beat.

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We had orh nee for dessert. The yam paste here is very nicely made though it doesn’t quite beat the grandmaster at Ah Orh. The paste is fairly smooth with little bits of yam embedded inside. It’s topped with soft pumpkin pieces and has very little oil. Avoid the accompanying coconut milk because they use the stuff from a carton. Less than fresh coconut milk mars the taste terribly. I like this version quite a bit because it’s good enough and it’s less oily than other versions.

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Other things worth eating are the home made tofu topped with bonito flakes and any of their basic stir-fry dishes. Go there with family or lots of good friends so you can try more dishes!

Zi Yean
Blk 56 Lengkok Bahru #01-443
Tel: 6474 0911 (Air-Con) / 6471 0253 (Non Air-Con)

Crab of My Childhood

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I’ve been eating at Hua Yu Wee for years. My parents love this place and it was a natural place to have a birthday celebration for my father (yes, a second time, we always find excuses to eat good food).

We started off with the deep fried baby squid. Here, it’s done to perfection because it’s incredibly crispy even after sitting for a while. It’s the right blend of sweet, spicy and peppery. ‘Nuff said.

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The sambal dua tao are one of the few good renditions on the market. Here the sambal is spicy and not overly sweet with plenty of dried shrimp in the mix. I liked how the plump mussels were incredibly fresh and full of clean flavour. Thumbs up.

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The chicken was probably the weak link for the dinner. While the chicken was nicely browned and crisp, it wasn’t particularly flavourful and the green chilli sauce didn’t do much to lift it. Definitely not a re-order.

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Fish at this place was faultless as usual. The live seabass was steamed till just done and lightly seasoned with soy sauce and coriander. The smooth texture and good flavour of the fish was excellent as usual. Good with rice.

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Then came the stars of the show: the crab. Note how they’ve changed the presentation so people get to the good bits quick instead of having to turn over the shell first. The crab here is always sweet and meaty, and the chilli crab sauce is thick and spicy. I’m not such a big fan of chilli crab but the sauce is great with the deep fried mantou.

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My favourite type of crab here is the pepper crab. I like how it’s deeply spicy without being overwhelmed by peppery-ness. It’s got plenty of the depth of flavour of pepper and the top notes that quickly fade when pepper gets stale. This version is my favourite, I guess it’s hard to describe it well when the taste is so familiar. Just go have some and tell me what you think!

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Hua Yu Wee
462 Upper East Coast Road
Tel: 6241 1709

A Constellation of Prata

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I don’t know what cunning folly took us when we decided to go to The Prata Place for Sunday lunch. My brother topped up the petrol specially for the long drive out to Upper Thomson. It was pretty crowded from the breakfasting masses when we arrived at about noon on Sunday. A pair of regulars were chased off to a smaller table to accommodate our party of five at the crowded cafe.

Even though each of us ordered something different, we hardly had a quarter of what was on the menu. We started off with crisp uppatham (pappadum) redolent with whole cumin. The paper thosai arrived next, a crisp cone accompanied by four types of curry and chutney.

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Everyone enjoyed the paper thosai. Most of it was crispy and the thicker base veered towards soft and chewy. I enjoyed that part the best because the thicker parts showcased very well the characteristic fermented rice flavour.

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The masala paper thosai was made of the same excellent stuff.

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The difference was that it had a delicious masala filling of spiced potato and frozen mixed vegetable.

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Now the curry chicken was top notch. It was thick with spices and was incredibly rich and, well, chickeny. The plus point was that it had a different spice mix from the other curries, so we didn’t feel like we were eating the same side curry for the thosai and prata. I alternately dipped  my thosai with that and the other curries.

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I haven’t had murtabak for a while and was quite surprised to see this thin crispy version instead of the traditional thick and soft one. The change made it a far more manageable portion, though I suspect the calories were about the same from the extra oil. There was plenty of well-marinated chicken from good parts, unlike other places that serve you dried up leftover chicken.

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It was good quality and I enjoyed it, though deep down I still prefer the traditional thick version.

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We also had paper prata and mushroom egg prata. Both were good with crisp outer layers and soft chewy inner layers. My brother liked the mushroom one because it had lots of large size mushroom slices. I wonder where they sourced their jumbo canned mushrooms.

For dessert we had the banana prata. It worked so well because of the cooked banana pulp inside. They used local bananas so it had a slight sour tang which really hit the spot. I can imagine it working well with chocolate sauce or condensed milk too.

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We couldn’t resist the chocolate prata. It was a special paper prata with chocolate sauce and chocolate rice on top.  It tasted like a local and extra unhealthy version of chocolate crepe. (What’s the difference between paper prata and special paper prata? They fold the special prata into the roof shape and charge you 20 cents more.)

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To wash all the oily, artery-clogging goodness down, we had teh bing and teh halia. The teh bing was the best I’ve had in a long while. I had to stop myself from drinking the smooth, fragrant brew at one go. It was just the right sweetness too. Those who had teh halia said theirs was good too. Plenty of ginger fragrance but not too biting on the tongue.

Five drinks, two packs of uppatham, two thosais, one murtabak, four pratas and one chicken curry cost us $33. Excellent value.

The Prata Place
1 Thong Soon Ave
Springleaf Estate