Good Eats Along Upper Thomson

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Upper Thomson is an area that I haven’t explored much and I’m glad that recent developments have allowed me to do so a bit more. We had brunch at Meng Kitchen where they specialise in bak chor mee ($4 per bowl). DC thinks this squares up as a top contender for #1 in his books, especially since we didn’t have to queue or wait long even. The noodles were nicely al dente, especially the mee kia. I liked the smoothness of the vinegar, seems like it’s a superior brand compared to the regular versions. I liked how generous they were with the dried sole, but would’ve liked the liver to be less cooked. Pink is the desired doneness, not tough and brown. The soup wasn’t too bad, a notch above the typical longkang jui (drainwater) that’s normally served nowadays.

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Meng Kitchen
246B Upper Thomson Road
Open 24 hours

Next, we wandered round to Salted Caramel to get our fix of (guess what?) salted caramel ice cream. Accompanying it was lychee ice cream, which I felt was too grainy and hadn’t quite enough lychee flavour. The salted caramel ice cream in our double scoop ($5) was top notch, with an excellent smooth texture and just the right hit of salt. I like how you couldn’t actually pinpoint the saltiness, it was simply there to accentuate the sweetness of the ice cream. The strange thing about this ice cream is that the caramel flavour wasn’t that strong. Not every mouthful had the rich burnt sugar taste of caramel. If you told me it was cendol flavour, I would believe you. Still good despite the slightly flavour confusion!

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Salted Caramel
246F Upper Thomson Road
Tel: +65 6753 1718

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A Trip to Hong Kong: Two Versions of Roast Goose

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By one of those strange alignment of stars, DC and I were on overlapping business trips to Hong Kong. A bit of canny planning brought us together over the weekend at the achingly modern and very comfortable Langham Place Hotel. The only problem in getting there was that I didn’t realise that there were two “Langhams” in Kowloon, one the Langham Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and the other the Langham Place Hotel in Mongkok.

After a bit of confusion, I finally got to the hotel and DC took me to Sham Tseng Chan Kee Roasted Goose Restaurant (深井陳記燒鵝茶餐廳). He informed me that Yung Kee was off the menu for this trip as he’d been and the standard of roast goose was abysmal compared to its price. So this place it was and we proceeded to order the roast goose noodles.

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Sure, the soup was full of msg, but the noodles were firm and springy and the goose. Mmm… the first piece of goose I put in my mouth was tender and flavourful. The fatty, savoury juices from the drumstick flowed beautifully with each bite. It’s a pity that not every piece of the drumstick was as tender. The skin was soggy – we couldn’t salvage it in time before it all sank into the soup. Still, for about HK$40 (S$6), this was a fantastic welcome to Hong Kong.

Sham Tseng Chan Kee Roasted Goose Restaurant (深井陳記燒鵝茶餐廳)
Reclamation Street, Mongkok 旺角新填地街427-427A號 behind Langham Place Hotel

DC promised me something better for dinner, something worth dressing up for. So I changed out of my denim civvies, slipped on a black dress and we headed downstairs to Ming Court Restaurant. It’s fantastic to have a 2-Michelin star restaurant right in the hotel. Disappointingly, it seemed like everyone else was dressed down, so not quite as posh as expected. But that was hardly a downer as the service was friendly and not at all snooty like you’d expect for a starred restaurant. (Yes it helps to speak even a smidgen of Cantonese.)

We dithered a while on which dishes to order. Greedy as we are, we realise that our stomachs nonetheless have finite capacities (sad to say, mine more so than DC’s). It went without saying that we would have the roast goose – chiu-chow style roasted goose (HK$148 or S$25). It’s almost a pity it came first as it was the star of the show. The best roast goose in our combined experience, and that’s saying something. Check out how tender the meat is in the pic below.

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One angle not enough? Look at this pic. See how crisp the skin is? And the thin sliver of fat under the skin? It was a sublime experience as each morsel was perfectly tender. I could taste both the slightly gamey flavour of the goose and the spices of the marinade in each bite. Then there was the wonderfully crisp skin; we were so glad that we asked for the drumstick portion with a higher skin to meat ratio. And something most amazing that put this in a class of its own: the marrow was still tender. It’s hard enough to roast a bird so that the meat is tender and the skin crisp, let alone stop the marrow from drying out. This goose scores full marks in our books.

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The rest of the meal simply paled in comparison after the goose. The vegetables were on the soggy side. I’m not sure if vegetables in Hong Kong cook down soggier or it’s just the style of cooking. I’ve had better vegetables elsewhere.

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And then the lowest point of the dinner. This was a gold award winning dish from 2010 – pan-fried chicken skin filled with minced chicken and black truffles, accompanied with sliced pumpkin (HK$288 or S$50). The first piece was interesting, with crisp pumpkin at the bottom and a very slight hint of black truffle in the sauce. Too bad the chicken skin wasn’t crisp as it was sandwiched between the meat and the pumpkin. My preference was to keep the skin on top to preserve the crispness for longer. There was also way too much for the two of us to work through that dish of maybe eight pieces. We really wanted to like this but it was too cloying and monotonous after the first piece. Next better player please.

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And a next better player did indeed step up. The signature fried rice. I hear you readers cry, “What? Fried Rice?! At a Michelin starred restaurant?” Let me explain. This version, fried rice with silky chicken, crispy conpoy and shao xing wine, served in a casserole (HK$198 or S$35) was made with black chicken and pine nuts, fried beautifully together, and placed in a hot claypot to accentuate the wok hei. The chicken was indeed silky as mentioned in the menu description and there was plenty of smokey charred flavour. The best part was the layer of “fan jiu” (飯燋) or burnt rice at the base of the claypot. Beautiful.

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By the end of our dinner, I was so stuffed by the rich food that I couldn’t handle any heavy dessert. Very unwisely, we didn’t take any of our friendly waiter’s recommendations. They were mainly fried or incredibly rich, like deep fried egg fritters, birds nest soup, giant longevity bun stuffed with lotus paste and salted egg yolk. And we ordered osmanthus jelly with wolfberry. While it was very pretty, it was nonetheless a foolhardy choice as the jelly was too sweet and rather too firm for my liking.

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Altogether, the meal was good with a modest damage done of HK$1000 or S$160 including tip. The downer was the overly oily and too monotonous chicken and pumpkin dish. We would definitely order something more classically Cantonese next time, and maybe save a bit of space for a richer dessert. And the roast goose? I’ll fly to Hong Kong just to eat that again.

Ming Court
Langham Place Hotel
555 Shanghai Street, Mongkok,
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 3552 3300

Lombok: A Great Stay at Villa Sayang

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DC and I needed a break and we decided to really not do much at all to recuperate from all the craziness of the year. Lombok was a-calling. There wasn’t a huge lot to do there aside from hardcore mountain climbing and casual snorkelling or scuba diving and, more crucially, there were still air tickets available at short notice.

DC booked Villa Sayang at Mataram, the main town on Lombok. We made it our base out of which to explore the island and what a lovely stay it was! It was set among the padi fields at the base of Mount Rinjani and we had this lovely view from the restaurant every morning.

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There was plenty of greenery. Every morning we saw birds, like this sunbird, flitting about the trees. There were also plenty of butterflies flitting about in the trees. It was such a serene setting for breakfast.

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Until the resident cat turned up and tried to order us to give us food with its commanding stare.

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Breakfast was excellent, either a generous buffet spread when there were enough guests at the Villa or a la carte courses starting with fresh fruit…

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… followed by toast and jam, and then yummy mains such as the fantastic fried noodles a la Villa Sayang. They had a fresh vegetable garden and included lots of their fresh in-house produce in their food.

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The room was really lovely too, with plenty of space and a little gazebo-porch lounge area outside. The bathroom was such a highlight: it was divided into two, with a spectacular outdoor shower set in a granite (or was it limestone?) wall.

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Inside, there was a low bathtub and a lovely aquarium full of fish to entertain us in times of, ahem, boredom.

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We went out in the day and came back in the evenings, sometimes eating in. They were very obliging and even served us dinner in the lounge area outside our villa. They had some delightful dishes such as the fish palumera, a soupy stew with plenty of ginger, local herbs and Thai basil.

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One of the evenings, we had a delightful nasi tumpeng, compliments of the Villa. It was a very yummy combination of rice in a cone shape, representing Mount Rinjani, and plenty of dishes to go with the rice. We had fish satay – served on sticks, the fragrant herbal fish mixture was grilled to perfection; curry chicken, begedil – heavenly fried potato croquettes; spicy beef rendang; egg omelette; fried keropok – prawn crackers; dry-fried sweet-sour tempeh – absolutely lovely with sweet kicap manis, sour assam and crispy, unbelievably good tempeh; and stir-fried vegetables.

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On our final night, we had yet another evening of good food, with specialities like urap urap – a salad dish of blanched vegetables accompanied by a spicy coconut dressing, kangkung pelecing – more about that in a later post, more fish palumera, more beef rendang and yummy fried chicken.

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What made our stay extra special was the personal touch of Ibu Rosa, the lady boss of Villa Sayang. She was amazing at making arrangements for us, from getting us a rental car, to sending us to various really yummy restaurants in town (notwithstanding them being competitors to her in-house restaurant), and getting hold of our crazy shopping items. We went home with 10kg of Lombok mangoes and 5 kg of their signature belacan – again, more of that in a later post.

Villa Sayang was a lovely place to stay, a great place to eat and had such lovely people, we’d not hesitate to go back.

Villa Sayang
Jalan Sonokeling
Lingsar, West Lombok
West Nusa Teggara 83371
Indonesia
Tel: +62-370-6609022
Email: info@villasayang-lombok.com

136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat

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One night I had a dinner at a new place recommended by my aunt. We had a boisterous family gathering round an eponymous fishhead steamboat. It was chockful of chunky grouper fishhead in a rich, flavourful stock, all augmented by plenty of fresh vegetables and yam. The yam practically melted in the mouth after spending a while in the soup. It was a great dish for sharing in a group.

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To accompany the steamboat were deep-fried pork spareribs that were fairly decent. It was blown out of the water by the next dish.

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I spied this dish at another table and insisted that we order a portion of it: prawn sang meen. The  crispy noodles bathed in thick yet not too gloopy sauce was simply heaven. I don’t recall anywhere else that does the noodles so thin and crisp and plain yummy! The juicy big prawns with plenty of orange milt helped a lot too. I’m still dreaming of this dish.

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Not satisfied by just one serving of crispy noodles, my cousin insisted on another one, this time fish. I don’t know how we could be relatives but this cousin doesn’t even like prawns, hence this version. It had the same to-die-for crispy noodles and yummy sauce, but I felt that the prawn version was far better.

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136 Hong Kong Street Fishhead Steamboat
291 South Bridge Road
Tel: 8288 3368

Yang Gui Fei

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We discovered this little restaurant while wandering around Chinatown looking for a quick dinner.  I liked the gentle pun in the name, as the character for Yang was “sheep” instead of  the usual character for the legendary Chinese consort’s surname. Yang Gui Fei specialises in Xi’an cuisine, and is run by Xi An people. We only seemed to hear mainland Chinese accents from the other patrons and had high hopes that the food would be authentic!

As per our usual practice, we ordered a bit more than expected, starting off with some typical Chinese cold starters, such as these pickled long beans.  When they first arrived, I was a bit dismayed by how bland and faded they looked. But looks belay much flavour and zing. The beans were refreshingly spicy and sour,  plus fermentation did wonders to add to its flavour. They were super yummy and also deceptively spicy – on first bite, they were mildly hot but the more I ate the hotter my mouth got and I couldn’t eat more than two in a row before having to cool off my mouth with something else.

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We also had a plate of seasoned enoki mushrooms, similar in its savoury umami seasoning, just not pickled and only mildly spicy. They were a good interlude between bites of beans!

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The star dish of this place had to be the mutton. We ordered the mutton kebabs and also tried out a few chicken ones. These were well-marinated, but the chicken kebabs were definitely juicier and more flavourful than the mutton ones. The mutton ones unfortunately don’t quite match up to what I remember in Xi’an. It all became clear when the proprietress told us that they used New Zealand lamb and not proper grown-up and gamey mutton. Maybe they should change to a Muslim supplier from Tekka market and make it truly Muslim-style like in Xi’an.

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Here’s a close up on the spice mix that goes into the marinade.   Yum!

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The next dish we ordered brought back fond memories from my holiday in Xi An.  “Biang Biang” noodles are thick, flat and very chewy noodles seasoned with a spicy  vinegary dipping sauce. The texture of these noodles are far from the usual slightly limp and soft Chinese noodles. They are the epitome of al dente yet are nothing like any Italian noodle. I don’t know what type of flour they used nor how they developed the gluten in the noodles to get this lovely firm noodle with loads of bite . It was wonderful.Word of warning:  one bowl of “Bian Bian” noodles is plenty for two.

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Yang Gui Fei restaurant
18 Smith Street
Tel: 6100 0629

Tekong at Changi

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Shinta wanted to eat seafood and we found ourselves in my neck of the woods. The oddly named Tekong Seafood is at Changi Point, somewhat badly located in a building way to the back of the hawker centre. We were there on recommendation of Shinta’s guildmate and ordered most of his recommendations.

The gong-gong was decent, though nothing to shout about. A bit chewy, not particularly tasty nor fishy, went decently with the sweet chilli sauce. Next.

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I quite liked the meesua though it’s not something that I’d make a special trip down for. I liked how the special meesua was just cooked so it was still rather stiff and almost chewy, a bit like very fine meekia. The sauce was the classic brown gloopy sauce that was very well made, aromatic and full of seafoody flavour. Yummy.

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Things really started going when the deepfried squid rings appeared. They were so good that they disappeared before everything else and we had to immediately order a second plate of the stuff. The batter was very crisp and perfectly seasoned with plenty of salt crystals, aromatic curry leaves and a touch of sweet. I liked how the crispy outer layer gave way to the slightly chewy squid on the inside.

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I thought the oat prawns were great too. I normally prefer prawns poached as it really brings out the flavour, but this time the flavour wasn’t sacrificed as they fried them so the heads were still juicy inside. Plenty of crunch from the batter and oats, prawns fried well so that it was so crispy that the shells could be eaten too yet still juicy on the inside. Nothing much to criticise here. Great stuff.

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Aim of the next visit? To check out their crabs!

Tekong Seafood Restaurant
Block 6 Changi Village Road #01-2100 Changi Village
Tel: 6542 8923

Quick Eats: Sembawang Hills Hawker Centre

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DC and I thought we’d do something a bit healthier and go for the HSBC treetop walk at Macritchie Reservoir. Before that we of course had to stop somewhere for sustenance. The Sembawang Hills hawker centre nearby did the trick. I did a very unwise thing and queued for the famous “inventor” fish soup where the owner had lots of little contraptions for serving his customers better. There was a curved dispenser so that we help ourselves to spoons hygienically and a coin sorter that helped him with his change. Needless to say, the queue was horribly long and DC said he’d go for the salted duck noodles instead. I persevered and got my fish soup with instant noodles (everyone else seemed to be ordering that too) and added some fish roe to it.

My verdict? It wasn’t worth the queue. While the fish was decent, there wasn’t a great deal of flavour and the noodles were a bit too soft for my taste. I could have done better cooking it myself at home.

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DC was prescient enough to take this shot before he started. By the time I got back to the table with my fish noodles, most of the duck and noodles were gone! Still, I managed to wrangle some over from him. Oh my, the duck was very good! The salt had cured the duck somewhat and intensified the flavour of the duck, also giving it a firm, smooth texture. And the noodles! I’m not normally a fan of yellow noodles (sek mee) but this version was still very much firm to the bite. DC had to restrain me from buying my own set of duck noodles after the disappointing fish ones.

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Next time we go to Macritchie I know what I’m having!

Fresh Fish Soup
#01-36

Ah Ee Traditional Hokkien Salted Duck
#01-28
590 Upper Thomson Road
Sembawang Hill Food Centre