Modern Thai at Kha

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Hort Park is a special place for DC and me. We go there regularly but never quite during dinner time till this one time we went to Kha, a modern Thai restaurant. It’s run by the same person who does boutique hotels, one of them being Jia in Hong Kong. It’s cute how the names of the two places are linked: “jia” means “home” in Mandarin while in Cantonese, it’s pronounced “ka”. In Thai, kha is a modifier word for females to use at the end of a sentence to make it polite. (The equivalent for males is “khup”.) What a clever way to name the restaurant. I like!

I was pleasantly surprised already when they served the complimentary appetiser. Instead of the typical prawn crackers with sweet chilli sauce, they gave us popped rice biscuits with red curry sauce. It made for a zingy start to the meal.

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We ordered two appetisers and a main so that there’d be space for dessert. First was the crispy catfish with sweet pork and mango salad. It was very good – tangy and slightly spicy with plenty of texture. I’ve always liked the crispy floss-like texture of catfish done this way. They did right not to mess with the classic combination of catfish and young mango strips. I also liked the extra crunch of the peanuts but felt that the pork wasn’t necessary.

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Our second appetiser was banana flower salad with young coconut and chilli. I didn’t like this one as much. It still had the classic sweet-sour-spicy combination so characteristic of Thai salads, but I felt that the texture of banana flower didn’t lend itself well to a salad as it was too “siap siap” – you know that nasty tannic texture, a bit too sappy? The young coconut helped a little but didn’t help much to give interest for flavour. Interesting idea that flopped.

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The main we shared was very good! It was baked half sticky chicken stuffed with coriander and lemongrass, paired with stir fried pineapple rice. The sticky chicken was marinated in some kind of sweet dark sauce hence the stickiness from all that sugar. It tasted Asian but not quite vehemently Thai. The meltingly tender chicken paired nicely with the pineapple rice for a very safe, crowd-pleasing main. I liked how they used some unpolished rice to add flavour and texture. Good call.

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For dessert, we went for the baked pumpkin custard with coconut ice cream. The pumpkin custard is very typically Thai. This version was very nicely made, with smooth silky and not too sweet custard. It went very well with the rich coconut ice cream, a very nice end to the meal.

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Too bad the drinks weren’t as good. We wanted to enjoy the view outside and had our post-dinner drinks there. They tasted as bad as they looked. Don’t drink the aromatic pear mojito – the pear was somehow oxidised and brown; it left a very grainy feel in the mouth. The khao lao rum looked less bad and tasted OK. It was just another sweet drink. Both were very weak, so Kha is not a place for getting smashed.

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My verdict? A nice place for a romantic meal, just skip the drinks. I hear that they are moving soon. It’s a pity as the space is really quite lovely. Check it out soon!

Kha Restaurant
33 Hyderabad Rd
Tel: 6476 9000

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

August in China: Inside the Tulou

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The inside of the tulou weren’t exactly the most luxurious. Inside the packed earth walls were struts and floors made of timber planks. Each room into the circular courtyard and all rooms in use were open to let in the light. Above each door hung a lantern now for purely decorative purposes as the tulou had electricity at night.

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I especially liked the contrast of dark wood and red lantern but didn’t like it enough to stay the night in one. I opted for a modern guesthouse nearby instead as it had running water and airconditioning. Paying a small amount extra was worth it considering water was gotten from a well and there was no toilet inside!

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Things were very much back to basics here. Some areas had to be accessed by ladder instead of wooden steps because of lack of space.

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In the side alleys along the walls lay mud and starch bricks in stacks ready for repair work.

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And along the walls inside the tulou, the baskets and pots of everyday life seemed unchanged from a hundred years ago.

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Only the gas cylinder and the modern Chinese characters told of modern times…

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… as did new electric gadgets and the Mao poster.

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[Next up: Life in the Tulou]

An Accidental Lunch at the Moomba

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I suggested going to the Moomba for lunch with friend, thinking that it was a place for wraps and fancy sandwiches.  I’d mixed it up with its sister establishment, the Moomba Tuckshop. When I got to Circular Road, I realised my mistake. It’s a modern Australian restaurant, more fine dining than fancy sandwich. Luckily, my friend was happy to play along and, having no preconceived notions of what the food should be, we had an unexpectedly good lunch at the place.

The restaurant was pretty expensive, with appetisers going from $24 up, mains $25 up and desserts $12 up.  Since neither of us were big eaters, we decided to share an appetiser, two mains and a dessert. Swift mental calculations told me that the best deal was the 3-course lunch offer ($42) plus an a la carte main.

The appetiser was three Hokkaido scallops on a bed of watercress salad ($24). Each scallop was lovingly seared so it had a smoky crust giving way to the juicy still-raw interior. The seafood freshness really hit the spot. The accompanying salad was well executed as the spiciness of watercress was well balanced by incredibly sweet cherry tomatoes. The chef evidently chooses his produce very carefully.

The mushroom risotto ($25) was another winner. The risotto itself was studded with mushroom bits and perfumed with just enough truffle oil to tantalise. Covering half the risotto was a giant portobello mushroom, grilled to meaty perfection. Point to note: this dish was served at the edge of al dente, so you need to get to it fast before the rice grains go soft. We made the fatal mistake of chatting for too long before coming to our senses. Then we fell upon it and polished it off to the last grain.

Grilled kangaroo ($36) came next. It was surprisingly good medium done and could easily pass off as beef. Tasting somewhat like a cross between beef and venison, it was slightly more gamey than beef and had less of an iron tang than venison. The kangaroo was set on a pile of what looked like asparagus stems and had a few coins of purple sweet potato on the side. It was all faultless, so we could just focus on enjoying the food and the conversation.

Being on an adventurous streak, we went for the poached pear with blue cheese ice cream ($13). The ice cream tasted at first like baked cheesecake, with the accompanying mouthfeel. The only difference was that it had an extra savoury aftertaste.  It took another few spoonfuls before the blue cheese flavour came through. It was odd but somehow worked. Good for those who don’t like their desserts too sweet. The poached pear in red wine was too sweet for my liking. Having the pear and ice cream together, we felt that there was too much going on at the same time: soft grainy pear, sweetness, a hint of red wine, cold unctuous cheese and the salty pungency of blue cheese all together was  too overwhelming. While I’m unlikely to order it again, it was a fun experiment and I’m glad to have tried it.

Final notes: This place, like most chi-chi establishments, checks if you want still or sparkling water. They’ll pour  you tap water from pretty herb-sprigged bottles if you ask. Service was generally good: unobtrusive and attentive. One thing they need to work on is the pricing of their set menu. We expected to be charged a la carte prices for the cheaper mushrom risotto and pay for the kangaroo as part of the set, but the bill came otherwise. They were good enough to make the change in our favour, so kudos to them for saving us $20!

I’d definitely come back here again for its inventive food. The set lunch is good value since you get to choose anything from the a la carte menu, the produce is fresh and of good quality, and the cooking is top notch.

The Moomba
52 Circular Road
Tel: 6438 0141

P.S. Apologies for the lack of photos. It was a happy accident that I got to eat here so didn’t bring my camera.