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

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

Pepes

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I finally got round to trying Pepes with DC and his parents. I’d heard quite a bit about how it’s a reincarnation of the former Sanur, just that a few dishes were tweaked so it’s slightly healthier and less oily. We started with the tauhu telor, the ubiquitous stack of tofu deep fried with egg and served with kicap manis. It looks like there isn’t enough kicap manis in the picture, but this is the good healthy bit: it’s up to you how much or how little sweet black goodness you want on your tauhu telor as they provide extra in a side saucer. It’s great how the deep-fried egg bits were softly crispy and had none of that nasty oil ooze. They used very tasty good-quality tofu as well. A winner!

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Next was the sup buntut which I enjoyed a lot. The soup had clear, bright flavours and very tender oxtail. DC commented that it tasted like they added Maggi seasoning, but I thought it was fine. Maybe Maggi seasoning adds that authentic Indonesian flavour?

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The sayur lodeh was average with nothing particularly memorable, neither was there anythingparticular to complain about.

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But the beef rendang really lived up to its hype. It really was very excellent. Don’t be deceived by the gloopy looking gravy. (I’m guessing that it’s like that because they use a food processor for the rempah, but I’m not that much of a purist so not complaining about that.) The mix of spices, together with the coconut and the gentle heat of the chilli was an epiphany. I also liked how the meat was quite tender (though beef somehow never gets quite as tender as mutton) and came in large pieces all the better to mop up the sauce with.

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The barbecued squid was a bit of a pleasant surprise. They updated this traditional dish by topping it with chopped ripe tomatoes and they really added oomph! I liked the interplay of charred chewy squid with smoky sweet sauce and sweet, tart tomato. Another good dish.

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Get there before 7pm and you’re more likely to get a table, otherwise call ahead.

Pepes
391 Orchard Road 04-16 Ngee Ann City
Tel: 6836 3456