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.

A Cambodian Bug Encounter

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I’d known of this Cambodian place for a while but just never got round to trying it out until now. We started with a fairly standard pomelo salad that I thought tasted a bit too weird for my liking. While it had almost Thai flavours of fishy smoked fish, some sweet, some sour, and some chilli, it was fairly toned down in terms of the four standard flavours. There was a herb in it that I didn’t appreciate – it was a bit too earthy and bitter-smelling (though not actually tasting bitter at all), a bit like off garlic.

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The other starter was much better: steamed minced pork paste with preserved fish roe. It was very unusual, like a cross between a warm pate and meatloaf. I scooped spoonfuls of the smokey, fishy meat mixture onto the raw veggies and enjoyed the almost salted egg-like flavour. I never knew that eggplant could be eaten raw and I happily walloped the spongey vegetable with the meat. It went surprisingly well.

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DC saw the writeup on crickets and tarantulas on the wall and immediately wanted to try them. I told him I could probably stomach a cricket or two rather than a hairy spider leg so he ordered this off-menu. My heart sank when the deep-fried crickets arrived. The fellas were fried to a dark crisp – so much so that their carapaces were almost black, making them look like skinny cockroaches. Ewwww. Feeling slightly queasy, I attempted a few times to spear one with my fork but failed as the little buggers (literally!) were fried so hard and crisp they were impossible to spear. DC and I picked out one that looked least like cockroach and I gingerly ate its thorax and abdomen. Honestly, it didn’t taste like much aside from deep-fried. There was a very slightly sour aftertaste but not much. So there was half a cricket in my stomach and the other half – black and winged – still sitting on my plate. I hid it in my rice and hastily chewed it up, and swallowed. Then I looked up and saw DC calmly, and with great enjoyment, crunching up the rest of the plate of crickets. This is the reason why I’m a wuss and I’m with this very brave man with the appetite for adventure. If he can put up with bug-eating, who knows what other crap he can put up with!

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OK so enough with the wussing out – the last dish was their signature dish of fish amok. I’d tried it in Cambodia before and was expecting something thick yet still fluid, somewhat like Thai green curry. This version was like a non-spicy otak. The flavours were very similar and the fish was moulded in a slightly runny coconut custard. DC and I both liked the delicate flavours and the soft-firm texture of the fish. Thumbs up!

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We didn’t manage to get dessert as the banana sago dish I wanted wasn’t available. Service here is generally very sincere and warm, though slightly dopey and haphazard. Be patient with them and you’ll have a good experience.

Khmer Delight
922 East Coast Road
Tel: 6449 1529

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

The French Kitchen

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I went with family to French Kitchen to check out their set lunch ($36++). It’s not an easy place to get to as it’s in a pretty remote (!) part of the CBD. Check out Central Mall on the map first before you go, it’s not the more centrally located Japanese mall. Our party got there easily enough, ordered and started to wallop our amuse bouche. It was quite nice – tomato bruschetta, parmesan crisp and truffled pumpkin soup – but not very exciting. I thought it rather boring overall because bruschetta, tomato and parmesan are too common, plus nowadays everything is over-truffled. Don’t get me wrong, truffle is nice, but I’d like my foodie world to be less awash in truffle please.

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My lobster bisque was very nice. I liked the touch of tempura prawns (OK so they’re called beignets, but they sure are tempura to me) with its softly crisp texture. Too bad the batter got soft really quick, so the second one wasn’t quite as yummy.  I think they spent too much time fiddling about with pouring out the bisque at the table. They should just stick the pot on the table and leave it as a free for all for barbarians like us me. Still, they did good by leaving the head and tail unbattered so I enjoyed the crispness of the prawn shell all the way. The bisque itself was decent but not quite robust enough for my liking. I guess the chef was trying to be purist by using only lobster but couldn’t afford more than what he used for the set menu. I think it would’ve been better with crab or prawn in it too. As for the leek custard, it was soft and comforting but not quite my thing as I’m not the biggest onion fan. A well executed dish nonetheless.

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My main was quite a standard dish, so no marks on originality. Wagyu beef cheek has been done to death, but this was a well executed version. It was meltingly tender and not too rich, and with rocket as a good foil to the richness. The eggplant caviar with truffle was a bit underwhelming for something that was really just eggplant mash. Decent, just don’t expect too much from the eggplant.

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I wasn’t sure about the fries – had one, found it way too salty and passed the rest to my brother and the rest. They happily chomped it up.

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The dessert was only average, ending the meal on a bit of a letdown. The sabayon with wild berry ice cream didn’t make much of an impact at all. All I remember was rich, spongy custard with ice cream that tasted very faintly of, well, berries. Didn’t help that the strawberry garnish was sour. I’d expect much more for a restaurant of this standard. Looking back at the picture, the sliver of pastry was very good though, very short and crisp, falling apart beautifully on the tongue.

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My verdict? The French Kitchen has solid execution and well made savouries. Don’t expect a great deal of creativity; go there for the classics and for the good value set lunch.

The French Kitchen
7 Magazine Rd (off Merchant road)
#01-03, Central Mall
Tel: 6438 1823

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

A Viet Gem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Eats: That Shanghainese Place

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

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

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

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