Two Fine Dining Restaurants on Sentosa

In a fit of generosity, DC decided to take me out for dinner at The Cliff on Sentosa for a nice meal. Given that it was a weeknight, the place was already fairly full, with all the coveted balcony seats overlooking the sea already reserved and enough people so that we had company at the next table. It was a very dimly lit restaurant, hence its reputation for being a very romantic place. I can imagine many a marriage proposal taking place at the balcony seats. Unfortunately, the dim lighting also meant that the photos came out at even poorer quality than my norm.

The warm bread was good: crisp and crusty on the outside and soft and yielding on the inside. I liked how they paired it not just with olive oil but also with a vaguely Arabian spice mix with paprika as the main spice. It was fun dipping our bread in the olive oil and then the aromatic powder.

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We were given an amuse bouche that DC really liked. I’m not so keen on molecular gastronomy type bits and bobs, especially the bursty green blob on the spoon (it was a reconstructed olive), but I liked the toast with some experimental spreads on it. Can’t remember what it was, perhaps they’ll take the idea further and turn it into a bigger dish for the menu proper.

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For starters, I had Belon oysters ($13 each). Belon oysters are one of my favourites as I love this particular blend of sharp minerality finished off with a good dose of brine. I wanted to order two because of the prohibitive price, but DC persuaded me that three made it right. And he was right, three is just right for enjoying the taste enough and not overdoing it. DC had an oyster soup that he said wasn’t worth mentioning, so I won’t.

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My main course of barramundi with pickled fennel and prosciutto floss and broth ($68) was overpriced. The crispy skin was well executed and that was about all I liked about the dish. I found the fish a bit overcooked, which was a travesty considering this is a signature dish. Overdoing a $68 fish is a bit much. As to the rest of the dish, I felt that the flavours were oversaturated. The prosciutto broth that the fish sat in was too salty against the sharp briny fennel pickle. It made the dish off balance. How to fix it? First, get the fish cooked right, darn it! Then dial down the salt in the broth and moderate the pickle slightly.

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DC’s pork dish ($62) was much better. They served the usual pork belly with crisp crackling that was perfect, which for a restaurant like this is merely a passing grade. To push for a better mark, they had to one-up the competition. They did. They were daring in serving the pork loin so pink it was almost red in the centre and this was tender, juicy and very flavourful. The piece de resistance was the savoury popcorn on the side, which I slowly picked from DC’s plate as the dinner progressed.

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We shared a dessert of The Cliff Lemon Tart ($20). This is the one thing that I would go back for: the many presentations of lemon. There was lemon meringue, lemon sorbet, lemon cake, lemon everything. I can’t even name all the various textures, temperatures and tastes of lemon in that dish. It was a lovely way to end the meal.

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Would I go back? Yes, with a reservation at the balcony seats next time. I would order the oysters, the pork and the lemon tart again. And I would enjoy the impeccable service. There’s something about this place where all the staff are invariably warm, gracious and inobtrusive. It’s the best service at any restaurant in Singapore.

The Cliff
The Sentosa – A Beaufort Hotel
2 Bukit Manis Road, Sentosa
Tel: +65 6371 1425
Opening Hours: 6.30pm – 12.00am (Last order at 10.00pm)

And the next contender is Osia. DC decided to pamper me for lunch. This was something like two months later, so please don’t think I eat like this every day. My first impression of Osia wasn’t that good. When we stepped in, there was this horrendous drilling noise from the renovation next door. This went on for quite a while until I asked if they could get the neighbours to at least stop for lunch. Our server at first said that they wouldn’t stop and I had to suggest that he ask them to do so before he trotted off. Thankfully, that worked and we had a much more tranquil meal after that.

On to the food. We had the set lunch ($35 for 2 courses and $45 for 3 courses). DC had the tuna tartare starter and was dismayed by the small portion. I liked the freshness of the dish and its bright flavours, enjoying the contrast of soft tuna chunks against crunchy vegetable. It was well executed, a classic dish.

The same could be said for my veal carpaccio. There was nothing to fault in the fresh produce and good flavours, yet nothing in the starters that took things up a level.

It was my barramundi that did exactly that. This is what The Cliff should have made of its barramundi. The fish itself was done perfectly – with silky, flaky and tender white flesh and nicely crisped up skin. The tomato salsa under the smooth potato mash was what made it soar. Aside from chopped tomatoes zinged up with chopped shallots, there were also little morsels of preserved lemons. The restrained use of tangy, salty lemon added an unexpected yet very familiar dimension to the dish. I also liked how the asparagus was presented not in spears, but in pretty yet practical, easy to eat rolls.

DC liked his hanging beef tenderloin with mushroom risotto but I was too caught up with my fish dish to thoroughly enjoy a bite of his. It was decent, that’s all I recall.

Then we shared a dessert of Valrhona hot chocolate soup, a signature dish. When it arrived, I had difficulty figuring out where the soup was, because it was blanketed under a layer of crust and icing sugar.

We had to break through the top to get to the chocolate below. It was more of a chocolately custard that baked into a crust at the top. Though it wasn’t quite as dark as I’d like it to be, it is definitely a crowdpleaser and goes well with the vanilla bean ice cream. What really surprised me was how after a few spoonfuls, the black pepper started coming through and it really made the dessert sing. No wonder it’s a signature dish.

Osia
8 Sentosa Gateway Resorts World Sentosa
Tel: +65 6577 8888
Opening Hours
Lunch: 12:00pm – 3:00pm (Daily)
Dinner: 6:00pm – 10:00pm (Sun – Wed, Last order at 9:45pm)
Dinner: 6:00pm – 10:30pm (Thur – Sat, Last order at 10:00pm)

Verdict? I like both, with The Cliff winning on the inventiveness, especially its lemon dessert, and on the wonderful service. Osia wins on its consistency in terms of fresh produce and well-executed dishes; it’s also much more affordable with its lunch time set menus. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Osia’s service, I just found that the staff could have been slightly more proactive at making sure we were comfortable.

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

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.

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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

 

Overpriced Hawker Food

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DC brought me to his favourite overpriced hawker food at Space@My Humble House. He strongly recommended the seafood carrot cake. It’s rather different from the plain rough-texture eggy version at the hawker centre. This version uses the smoother silken Hong Kong-style carrot cake, which takes the dish a few rungs up the class ladder. Of course the scallop and crab helped a bunch too!

I especially liked how the wok hei gave the dish a lovely smokey flavour and there were crisp almost burnt bits. Then the fresh seafood really took it places. Plump scallops and luscious crab are probably gilding the lily because it’s normally one or the other for me. Here, both together are just perfect. I only felt slightly guilty that I’d ditched my colleagues for this lunch!

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Space@My Humble House
8 Raffles Avenue
#02-25 Esplanade Mall
Tel: 6423 1881