An Indian Dinner: Khansama Tandoori Restaurant and Komala Vilas

A bunch of us decided that we should have a big Indian dinner and we picked out one in Little India. Khansama Tandoori Restaurant is highly rated on Tripadvisor and it was not surprising to see lots of tourists here.

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They had lots of interesting carvings as part of the decor, which adds a lot to the Little India atmosphere, touristy as it may be.

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We started with some drinks – I liked the jaljeera here. It’s a salty, minty lemonade spiked with cumin that’s a bit of an acquired taste. Most drink it expecting a sweet drink and the swamp-like colour doesn’t really add to the appeal. I like its refreshing flavour and change from the usual over-sugared carbonated drinks.

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It’s topped off with crunchy fried dough bits, so you need to eat that quickly before it gets soggy.

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For starters we had a chicken kebab platter with different kinds of marinade. My favourite was a dark green one with spinach in it. The spinach smoothed the spices nicely, paving the way for the main course.

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We also had some side dishes, like the palak paneer, a must-have for me when having anything tandoori. I love the smooth spicy spinach paste that goes so well with the curd cheese.

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We also had a mushroom curry which was OK (I don’t even remember what it is!), at least we got some fibre in the meal.

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The naan was pretty good, but the roti less so. I liked the light texture and fragrance.

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And then came the star of the show – the Sikandar Ran, a whole roasted leg of lamb. It’s hard to see exactly how big it is because they gave us a massive knife to cut the massive leg.

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It was quite an interesting experience to tuck into such a big portion of meat, but I found it a bit tough and poorly seasoned for my taste. The marinade on the outside was mainly just chilli hot and nothing else. A pity given our high hopes.

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Still, some people enjoyed it, like DC. Here he’s happily gnawing on one of the bones, so you can see how big it is.

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Khansama Tandoori Restaurant
166 Serangoon Road
Tel: +65 6299 0300

 

We next headed off for dessert and popped into Komala Villas. Since there wasn’t any space in the restaurant, we took it away and enjoyed it over some TV at Eeyore’s place.

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They were generally sweet and floury and nutty, and we forgot the names once leaving the place. The only truly memorable one was the sour jalebi: see the orange swirled pastry in the picture. I liked how it was like a sweet fried pretzel soaked in sour syrup. Very moreish after a heavy dinner.

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Komala Vilas: Sweets and Savouries
82 Serangoon Road
Tel: +65 6294 3294

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Indonesian-Style Fine Dining at The Moluccas Room

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DC and I took Mr and Mrs Goh out for a much-belated celebratory dinner. We wanted something nice and relatively high class but not super pretentious. So we thought we’d try out Moluccas Room, a newly opened Indonesian place at Marina Bay Sands. Not surprisingly, considering its location, it was decidedly upmarket. There was dim lighting creating an intimate ambience, a great sea view, and jazz music playing (though marred somewhat by the din from the free rock music concert outside). I thought the best part was the thoughtful touch of bag hangers on each chair. Great idea, right?

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Tricia turned up having already having done her research on what’s good here and she immediately endorsed my preliminary order. I started with a selection of their signature satays: the Sate Padang Lida Sapi ($27) and Sate Ayam Madura ($25). As predicted by our sagely Tricia, there were indeed five sticks of satay in each serving. And what tender satay they were! (This fact enthusiastically confirmed by Eug.) Each cube was softly yielding to the bite. The concentrated beef sauce added to the robust flavour. Very good.

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I was pretty skeptical about the tenderness of the chicken satay simply because past experience has told me that chicken satay is generally either fatty and smoothly chewy from dark meat, or hopelessly dry from white meat. This version proved me wrong. It was true to its menu description. Excellent.

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Next was the Ayam Sakura Tangkap Aceh Selada Mangga ($15), which our server assured was very different from the chicken satay. Well, it was similarly tender and flavourful from using sakura chicken. I liked the interesting topping of deep fried basil and curry leaves, plus the slightly tangy young mango salad. It was good, but not super exciting.

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The Otak Otak Jakarta ($12) was decent, but nothing fantastic. Think a slightly firmer version of our local otak, just without chilli. I tried it with their sambal selection which lifted the dish quite well. They have several interesting sambals, of which I liked the aromatic ginger flower and lemongrass one, but none of them were chilli hot at all! Fail!

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Next came the vegetable dishes, which were the weakest link of the meal. Nothing much to write about. Especially not when the fried shallots in the long bean dish were obviously factory made. That was when I displayed my disdainful look that apparently is the best anyone at the table could muster (!).

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And our reward was in the mains. From bottom: Confit Sakura Ayam Tuturaga ($27), Sengkel Kambing Betutu Panggang ($32), and Angus Steak Rendang ($32). I don’t recall much of the chicken dish – it was a very agreeable mild curry with tender (that word again!) chicken.

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And why didn’t the chicken make much impact? It was the lamb and the beef. Let’s start with the lamb first. It was (wait for it…) tender with a thick spicy sauce, somewhat like a rendang minus the heat.

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And the beef? It was top class. The beef itself tasted properly of meat, unlike most steaks these days. It was juicy despite being done medium (a bit cooked for DC and me as we’re usually into rare), and the texture was perfect. It was firm yet easy to chew. The sauce really was secondary. It’s not like the local rendang sauce, being almost like a thin peanut sauce. This dish is worth trying for the meat alone.

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We then had soup, which was a waste of stomach space. Not that it was horrid, just that both the soto ayam and sop buntut weren’t quite up to scratch by fine dining standards. In my mind, soups such as these should either be rustic and earthy with plenty of spices accentuating the flavour of the meat, or clear and intensely concentrated so only the sheer essence remains. The soups here achieved neither. Not that they were bad, it was just like any other version served up at a decent hotel anywhere in Indonesia.

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But this place knows how to redeem itself. We took a risk by ordering all the desserts and were well rewarded. The Kolak Padang ($15) was caramelised pumpkin and banana topped with vanilla ice cream, a bit like a parfait. I liked the simplicity of the sweet flavours commingling and enjoyed the soft textures of the fruit together with the smooth, cold ice cream.

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The Sri Kaya Creme Brulee ($12) was pretty decent – coconut custard flavoured with pandan. I liked the caramel crust that was done neither too thick to be hard to break through, nor too thin that cut the tongue. Alas, the custard wasn’t the smoothest and seemed to be on the verge of splitting, but if I have a creme brulee, I think I’d rather it pandan flavoured than the typical vanilla version.

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The Serabi ($12) was a fluffy pancake topped with sour jackfruit and caramel sauce. It’s very much like the Peranakan apom balik. I wonder how they made the pancake so light and fluffy. It was really good, as the jackfruit flavour was so mild that even I enjoyed it. (No I’m not a jackfruit fan.)

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Too bad the Pisang Saleh Coconut Milk Sorbet ($12) was the weakest of the desserts because of the pisang. It was a firm piece of banana not quite sure what it was doing in the presence of a super yummy sorbet. So I’m going to forget about the banana and tell you about the coconut milk sorbet. My goodness, it was good. Don’t let the name fool you: it’s not just coconut milk in the sorbet, but bits of chewy coconut and sweet, sweet young coconut water. Worth getting just for the sorbet. Alternatively, just order a scoop of the sorbet on its own!

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Overall, the restaurant has excellent starters, mains and desserts. Avoid the soup and side dishes. It’s worth going because it’s probably the only place in Singapore that serves fine dining Indonesian food, and good quality food at that. It’s worthwhile to go in a group and sample the dishes. We later realised that ordering a la carte worked out cheaper than ordering their set dinner. We got more dishes to try too!

The Moluccas Room
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
2 Bayfront Avenue 01-81 Singapore 018972
Tel : +65 6688 7367
Opening Hours:
Lunch: 11.30am to 3pm
Dinner: 6.30pm to 10.30pm
info@themoluccasroom.com

A Long Brunch at St Regis

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My brother treated us to brunch at the St Regis and what a champagne brunch it was! It was well-priced compared to other hotel brunches at $170++ with champagne and $138++ without. What I didn’t like was that there wasn’t an option with just one glass of champagne, that I would’ve gone for. They offered a la carte glasses of champagne for $40, which made it more expensive than the option with free-flow champagne. Pfft.

No less, the spread was excellent. While not quite as extensive as other places, there were very few filler dishes. I liked also that the quality of the ingredients was excellent. Case in point were the oyster and ham selections. There were three types of oysters from various regions – all were good, and the memorable ones were the fine de claire from France. I love their briny, minerally flavour. The ham selection was more impressive, with four or five different types. I remember the parma and some of the air dried beef types, but everything was blown away by the entire leg of bellota ham carved out in tempting slivers. The flavour of the fat from acorn fed pig blew everything else out of the water. You have a choice: either eat the other hams first or go straight for the bellota. No other way.

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What made this buffet special was that the food wasn’t all from the buffet table where we helped ourselves. The waiters regularly came round with small bites, such as this sampler platter of (L-R) tomato gazpacho, tuna tartare, foie gras in the style of creme brulee, deep-fried silver bait, and marinated olives. I enjoyed the gazpacho and tuna tartare a lot – so refreshing, while my mum and aunt adored the foie gras. There were plenty of other yummy bites brought round, including cubes of braised beef cheek, deep-fried prawn in a pastry net, pan-fried foie gras and truffle risotto. All very good.

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There was plenty more in the buffet spread, including an inventive quinoa salad, heirloom tomatoes and a good assortment of salads, from seafood to pure vegetarian ones.

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The mains were a la carte and each person could order only one dish. After the incredible spread from the buffet line and the bites brought to the table, I think one would be hard pressed to even contemplate finishing two mains anyway. I had the beef tartare (this dish seems to feature regularly on this blog) with truffles, which was a good rendition, though the flavour of the beef could have shone through more strongly. Perhaps my palate had been jaded by then. Perhaps the best options would be either the beef tenderloin or the Hokkaido scallops, if they don’t change the menu every week.

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We were stuffed by now, but had to press on. There were desserts aplenty for us to get through. It all seemed to pass in a blur, but the standout was the giant raspberry macaron. Here was one of the few places that did macaron well and accompanied it nicely with good produce. The raspberries were tart and on the verge of sweet, a good foil to the sugary macaron. The rest of the desserts were decent, the only grouse being that the fresh fruit selection wasn’t very good.

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Brasserie Les Saveurs
St Regis Hotel, 29 Tanglin Road
Tel: +65 6506 6866

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.

3 Inches of Goodness

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After a burger lunch at Relish, we trooped to 3 Inch Sin to try out the chocolate cakes there. Between the four of us, we shared three desserts. One was their eponymous 3 inch molten chocolate cakes – we had one in the bitter orange flavour. I’m not normally a fan of molten chocolate cake as it’s awful when not done well – either too floury and gloopy on the inside or not molten at all. This one was truly worth setting up a shop for. It was well set on the outside, with just the right cake to ooze ratio and was deeply chocolatey and beautifully rich. And the ooze? It was a thick sauce (not floury) and had plenty of bitter orange – kinda like grown up marmalade. Very good.

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DC had the Fudge and Smother cake. It was really excellent too. I liked that the cake stayed as cake in that it was still fairly light like proper sponge cake instead of being dense pound cake. The fudge also was proper chocolate fudge, which is paradoxically not very chocolatey – just a touch that’s all. It’s great in being light, just having the right touch of chocolate yet still being a really good chocolate cake.

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My favourite was my choice (yes my choices are normally very accurately good). The Dark Side chocolate tart was insanely good. If they hadn’t already set up this shop I’d urge them to set one up just to sell chocolate tart. Let’s start with the filling – deep, intense, dark velvety chocolate ganache that melts beautifully in the mouth. DC and the others thought it was like eating pure chocolate. But of course not! It’s good quality dark, dark chocolate melted with cream; and that’s what makes it so lusciously good. The ganache was good enough to hook me, and to reel me in was the excellent oh so short pastry. The pate sucree was yielding with just the slightest crunch, crumbling to perfection in the mouth. I almost resented the rest with whom I had to share the dessert. I almost tried to fend them off with my fork!

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I’m not normally a chocolate dessert person, but this place may make a convert of me yet!

3 Inch Sin
501 Bukit Timah Road
Cluny Court #02-27
Tel: 6314 1217

Absinthe: Starts Off Great, Then Falls Flat

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It was my birthday. DC took me to French bistro Absinthe for a nice dinner. For some reason, it was #1 on the best restaurant list for tripadvisor.com. We wondered whether it was worthy of its title. The seasonal tasting menu didn’t excite us – too much standard fare and not a great deal that would challenge our tastebuds. We went a la carte instead and it was totally worth it.

I started with seared scallops very simply done. One thing I really didn’t appreciate was realising that the “small herb salad” was miniscule side leaves plated on using tweezers. A small pile I understand, but 3 tiny leaflets do not a small herb salad make. DO NOT LIKE! The scallops themselves were good – well seared on the outside till I got the unmistakable and absolutely sublime charred shellfish flavour, and pretty much raw in the middle. Be warned that the scallops aren’t sashimi-grade because it was a little fishy on the inside. That’s fine with me because I quite like fishy things (especially belachan). The rich lobster hollandaise sauce was a nice foil to the seafood and pastry stick was very nicely short and melt in the mouth. I really like the seaweed flavouring they painted onto the pastry stick. If they sold them in boxes I’d totally snatch them up for an office snack. Oh and DC’s dry sherry went very well with this dish – held its own against the creamy fishiness. I think it was a Perez Barquero Grand Barquero Fino and the nutty, crisp aroma was just the thing to go with my scallops.

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DC liked his special of the evening of kurobuta pork with aniseed sauce. My sampling piece was decent though not mindblowing. DC really enjoyed it though. You’ll have to wait for him to comment to find out why it was that good.

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Then my main. I don’t know what they did, but the lamb rack was so simply done yet so darn good! It was beautifully medium, just as requested and the flavour of the meat just shone through. I think it’s about buying good meat and treating it with respect and love. It was tender, juicy and very tasty, yet not gamey. So good. What really gilded the lily for me was the cep mash. I love wild mushrooms and mixing ceps into the mash was such a masterful touch. So masterful that it was one of the reasons why I ordered that dish. Yummy fragrant cep mash and exquisite lamb made me a happy, happy girl.

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DC went for the classic bouillabaise. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was like beyond acceptable. I think I was too engrossed in my lamb. Again, wait for him to comment!

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And the dessert. I wish I could say better things, but it was a horrible nasty letdown. The apple souflle, while not deflated, was an absolute flop. First off, they used overly coarse-grained sugar to line the souflle ramekin. Did the chef run out of caster? It completely defeats the purpose of light ethereal sponge when you crunch into sugar. Didn’t help that the souffle was too small to escape from the side edges, which in the absence of coarse sugar would actually be the best bit of the souffle. The accompanying apple sorbet was way too sweet and not very aromatic. And the strawberry garnish? Sour. FAIL.

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So if this is America’s Got Talent, they’d have gotten the first buzzer by now. What got the second buzzer? DC made reservations for a birthday dinner. They FORGOT the birthday dessert. After our souffail, DC asked if I had space for more dessert. We’d been on an eating spree that day and I wasn’t too keen on a repeat fail. So we didn’t remind them. DC paid up and we left. That’s all. So much for attentive service, particularly because they have a habit of going through their reservations and calling to remind you the afternoon of the big dinner. Inexcusable.

I’d return for the appetisers and mains, then head off somewhere where they actually care about finishing off great and respect their desserts. You’ve been warned.

Absinthe
48 Bukit Pasoh Road
Tel: 6222 9068

Private Affairs

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DC took me to Private Affairs one Friday night to cheer me up after a stressful week. We weren’t sure about whether this place would last as we were the only ones there that night. We opted for the Luscious Dinner 4-course set ($98++). DC had a duck carpaccio that he liked a lot but didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. My Alaskan king crab, though, was wonderful. It really was lusciously seafood-y and briny, and bursting with fresh juiciness. The avocado mousse and passionfruit cream had just the right level of richness to complement the crab and the squid ink tuile provided a nice bit of contrast with its delicate crispness.

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For mains, DC had the Maine lobster. When I tried it, I almost regretted ordering what I did because the lobster, like my crab appetiser, burst with fresh, well, lobster flavour. It wasn’t your typical vaguely rubbery tasteless boiled lobster. This one was expertly cooked in a buttery foam, making me want to devour it shell and all. In fact, I think DC gnawed as much of his lobster shell as he could!

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Remember I almost regretted my order? But I didn’t. My main course of Welsh lamb loin held its own. Again, it was expertly cooked so that the lamb loin was tender and flavourful. Accompanied with the soy bean mash and the rich, intense jus of lamb and olive, this was very very good. (Unfortunately it paled against another dish I’ll blog about next time, but that’s a story for another time.)

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Our third dish was a pre-dessert. DC had a yummy cheese platter and I had a sorbet. Both were competent though not particularly anything to rave about. Plus, the lighting in the restaurant is so dim that it was impossible to get good pictures anyway. Good thing we were the only diners that night so we took pictures with flash whenever the wait staff weren’t looking (!).

For the real dessert, DC had peach tofu with salted caramel and lemongrass ice cream. The purple thing is a lavender sheet, which I felt tasted a bit like one of those  portable soap sheets for washing your hands. I liked the tofu a lot. It was very tender and smooth, more like tau fa than actual tofu. It was a bit like eating peach-scented egg tofu that was sweet.

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I had the chocolate mousse with miso sponge. The miso sponge was a very inventive touch to an otherwise tired dessert. I’m so glad he didn’t go down the molten choc cake route. Here, the miso sponge was very tender and very savoury, making for a lovely contrast to the sweet chocolate mousse and the deep flavour of the dark chocolate chips. It’s a pity he put pop rocks in the dessert. The dark chocolate “sand” is a bit overused in molecular gastronomy and I really don’t like the popping on my tongue.

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That dinner was good enough to send us back to Private Affairs a few weekends later for a semi-buffet brunch celebration. It was good value for money at $68++ per person without alcohol. The food wasn’t quite as exquisite as the dinner we had, but it was still pretty darn good. The idea was that we ordered whatever we liked from the brunch menu, from typical breakfast staples like mini-muffins, yogurt, pancakes and eggs, to brunch staples like fresh oysters, to more exciting things like cured sardine, panfried scallops and coffee ribs with a twist. All these we could order as many servings as we liked. For the main course, each chose one. Everyone liked their own main courses and I naturally felt that mine of melt-in-the-mouth sous vide French chicken was especially nice. If you want a taster for Private Affairs, the brunch is the way to go.

Private affairs brunch

Unfortunately it was third time unlucky when DC and I returned to Private Affairs. We tried out their celebratory 8-course menu for October consisting of greatest hits in the chef’s repertoire. There was the familiar course of many dishes, with some good and many others falling flat. I was deeply disappointed by the lack of quality control and lack of service recovery for a restaurant that aspires to this calibre. First, even though I made an email booking just like the previous brunch (with acknowledgement from the PR manager), they lost our booking and took a while to get us a table. It didn’t help that, unlike our first experience, the restaurant was full as there was a big group taking up much of the restaurant with a separate special menu and a few other tables doing the a la carte option. The kitchen was obviously not ready for this onslaught and some dishes came out different from described in the menu. For instance, the raw Hokkaido scallop with lettuce gazpacho jelly came with  a pool of bright green liquid instead of jelly and there was no way of eating the dish properly as we weren’t provided with spoons. We just had to fish out the scallop from the watery liquid and the wait staff later whisked away the plates, only looking slightly puzzled when I pointed out that we had no spoons and weren’t able to enjoy the dish properly.

No less, two dishes stood out. The kurobuta pork cheek with blood orange jelly was very good. I’m not sure about the slightly odd gel-like texture of the accompanying avocado gnocchi but the pork cheek itself was done so that it was meltingly good. The slightly tart and sweet blood orange jelly really lifted the flavour very well.

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The second noteworthy dish was the apple cake dessert. Again, there were parts that I didn’t quite agree with, in this case the apple cinnamon spaghetti. DC liked it a lot and slurped up mine too, but I found it a bit too molecular gastronomy, and too reminiscent of past biology experiments dealing with calcium alginate gels. It was a cute idea nonetheless. What blew me away what the apple cake itself. It was essentially an apple-flavoured cross between mousse and semifreddo, with apple jelly in the middle. I loved how it was just on the verge of melting and how the clean green apple flavours shone through very well. The lemongrass ice cream was a lovely light yet creamy accompaniment to the cake. Thumbs up!

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It was the last part of the dinner that disappointed me. The PR manager came over to chat with us. No matter that she didn’t apologise for the mix-up in reservations. She asked how the food was and I responded that it was patchy. Taken by surprised, she asked why and was reluctant to probe much further after I asked how much she wanted to know, showing her the brief notes I took on my slip of printed menu. She did concede that the lettuce gazpacho was meant to be a jelly and not liquid, and then said that the chef designed the menu out of popular dishes. Telling us that other people liked the menu certainly does not make me like a less than ideal experience more.

In short, this restaurant has lots of potential as the chef is obviously very talented. His kitchen and staff do on occasion let him down. It took me a long while to decide to post about this place as I have very mixed feelings about it. If you take my experience as a gauge, you’d probably get a good experience two-thirds of the time. For me, unfortunately, I’m not going to come back for a little while.

Private Affairs
45 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: 6440 0601