Guan Hoe Soon

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My uncle took us to Guan Hoe Soon, apparently a venerable institution of Peranakan food. I didn’t have the best memories of them at my last visit there many years ago, but this time, Guan Hoe Soon redeemed itself with excellent renditions of sambal prawns ($12), beef rendang ($12) and sambal timun (complimentary starter). The prawns were fresh and sweet, and the sambal was topnotch, flavourful and well-balanced so that it was hard to tell exactly what went into the sauce. The beef rendang was tender, a rarity for this dish, and again with very well-balanced flavours. I liked also how they did the sambal timun so simply and well, because a lot of places take the attitude that free starters are a take-it-or-leave-it affair.

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The ngoh hiang ($10) and sambal kangkong ($10) were decent, but nothing special to travel for. The ayam buah keluak ($12) was a disappointment, partly because they mixed the buah keluak with meat but mainly because the sauce was rather anaemic.

Other than that, the desserts were decent. Most order the cendol ($3.50), which the others reported to be good.

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I had the sago gula melaka ($3.50), which was, again, decent but not worth going back for. I wasn’t sure about the ice ball because it took way too long to chip through and tended to freeze the sago to unappetisingly hard little blobs. Otherwise, the gula melaka was nice and thick and I think the coconut milk freshly squeezed.

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Come here if you’re in the East, on a budget, and have a craving for Peranakan food.

Guan Hoe Soon
38 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: +65 6344 2761

Candlenut Kitchen

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Misa and I were overdue for a catchup and we chose Candlenut Kitchen for that. We were sad that Trish and Adele couldn’t join us, maybe a little because we missed their company, but mainly because we were severely limited in how much we could eat! It was very gutting (pun intended) that we only had space for two mains and a dessert. We had to choose our dishes wisely and started with Misa’s perennial favourite: assam fish ($16.80). I thought it a very good version, though not quite as rich in flavour as I’d like. While flavourful from the assam and laksa leaves, I found the gravy a little watered down. It would not go well in DC’s house (he’s Peranakan). Still, a decent rendition – good for desperate times when you can’t get the home-cooked version.

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I read good reviews about yeye’s curry ($12.80), a white curry made with white pepper instead of the usual chilli rempah. On first chew, I thought it very similar to a mild version of Thai green curry and was a bit let down. The texture of the gravy certainly was very similar as it was very thick and lemak. It went really well with the chunks of chicken thigh. After a few more bites, the subtlety of the dish starts to come through and the magic of the pepper starts to weave its spell. It’s spicy yet gentle in its kick, with a level of complexity that’s hard to describe. I’ve been remiss in my posts and this dinner was had slightly more than a month ago before Christmas. My mouth still waters as I write this, it’s worth the trip just for this one dish.

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For dessert, we had the Christmas special dessert which is sadly off the menu now. It was a bombe Alaska of sorts, with chestnut, banana and chocolate. While we both thought it a bit too sweet with the honey drizzled on top, the banana and chestnut combination was pretty addictive.

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This is a restaurant with very good potential. I’m already plotting my next trip back!

Candlenut Kitchen
25 Neil Road
Tel: 6226 2506

PeraMakan

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It was my father’s birthday, of course I had to take him out for good food. He requested Peranakan food and PeraMakan naturally came to mind. We’d eaten at the now-defunct restaurant in Joo Chiat and were crestfallen to find that it’d disappeared. Only much later did I find out from a friend that it’d reappeared at Keppel Club. Said friend raved about the food and especially the durian pengat. I’m not a durian fan, but Dad is. We were all set.

We started of with something not normally associated with Peranakan food, a salad. The jantung pisang kerabu was a salad of banana flowers, green mango and cucumber topped with cooked prawns, a light sambal belachan sauce and covered with a generous dollop of thick coconut cream. The sambal belachan was accented with lime juice and ginger flower, making it a surprisingly light-tasting dish. Goes without saying that the prawny tangy crunchy salad was a hit with the whole family.

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Next up was probably the star of the show: ayam buah keluak. I’m not sure why but the dish came with four pieces of chicken and only two nuts. I was pretty surprised when later I passed by a table of two and saw at least three nuts in their dish. I certainly hope it’s because the other table somehow requested for extra nuts and not because of inconsistency because I’m such a buah keluak fan! The dish was very well made, with tender chicken and very thick black and flavourful sauce. The best part was obviously the buah keluak,which was scraped out of the shell and stuffed back in.

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The deeply smoky, earthy nuts were so ambrosial I scraped out every tiniest bit and even licked as much of the insides clean as I could while at the same time avoiding an embarrassing trip to the dentist or worse!

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Now the dish I remember best of the old PeraMakan was the amazingly well made sambal terung. The brinjal was perfectly grilled till the skin turned a beautiful deep glossy purple. It was smothered with slightly sweet tomatoey sambal and topped with yummy prawns. Just like the ayam buah keluak, I could probably gobble down a whole dish of it all on my own.

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Next up was the only dud of the evening. It was a special: pomfret in assam nanas. The fish wasn’t particularly fresh and the flavours seemed rather watered down. A downer next to everything else on the table.

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The last main was almost an epiphany. You’d think otak otak would be a quotidian type of dish, but this one is the Platonic ideal of otak otak. The grilled dish looked almost like a lasagne, it was so well browned on the top. But bite into the coconut and seafood cake and taste the unctuousness of coconut. Couple this with perfectly cooked fish, prawn and sotong as well as uber-complementary spices and, well, you’re in otak heaven!

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Then came the desserts. I can’t personally vouch for the durian pengat, but considering how quickly it disappeared into my Dad’s stomach (yes, Dad’s usually queasy about dessert, no less rich ones), it must’ve been pretty darn good!

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I had the sago gula melaka and the gula melaka! It was so thick and rich and oozy I fell in love with it instantly. The only downer was that the sago was presented in the usual moulded jelly lump rather than separate pearls. I much prefer the little sago bits to be, well, in bits than in one slightly chewy lump. It was the fly in the ointment, but what lovely ointment that gula melaka was.

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DC had chendol which was very excellent too, again thanks to the superlative gula melaka and nicely cooked red beans.

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Mum had the apom balik filled with kaya. I quite liked the coconut-pandan fragrance of the pancake but felt that the kaya was a tad overpowered, I felt that the kaya could have been more flavourful, either with caramel flavour from slow-cooking the kaya longer or from more pandan flavour. That aside, it was a well executed dish and a nice sweet bite to round off the very excellent meal.

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PeraMakan
Level 3, Keppel Club
10 Bukit Chermin Road
Tel: 63772829

Peranakan at the Arch

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We had Peranakan at the Arch,  opposite Raffles Hotel. It’s a convenient place to go for dinner as it’s in a quiet corner of the city. The place has lots of decor from Ikea, so it’s all simple and understated. I love the service here. First thing they ask is if you’d like iced or warm water. Our server was attentive and smiling all the time. She gave good suggestions for our orders and made us feel right at home.

The first dish was the winged bean salad with dried shrimp and sambal. The raw beans were crisp and tasted very green. They were tossed in a generous dose of  dried shrimp and fiery chilli and finished off with lime juice.  It was a great start to the meal.

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I enjoyed the squid in honey pineapple sauce. The sauce was sweet and tangy with a touch of chilli and the squid was cooked just right for me, chewy and on the edge to crunchy. My mum found it too tough for her liking.

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The sayur lodeh (mild vegetable curry) was a crowd pleaser. Cabbage and long beans were cooked till soft but not mushy in a satisfyingly lemak (rich with coconut milk) sauce. I could also taste the dried shrimp in the sauce.  That’s the reason why Peranakan food needs to be eaten with lots of rice. Thumbs up.

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Not wanting to be too greedy, we had only one meat dish, deep-fried pork ribs in lime and black sauce. This certainly isn’t a Peranakan dish but it sure is good. The deep-fried ribs were crisp despite being drowned in the sweet black sauce and they were very moreish. Calamansi lime halves and fried curry leaves were tossed in to add piquancy and fresh herbiness to the dish. Best dish of the evening.

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We were rewarded for our restraint for the main dishes. Dessert here was very decent. The sago gula melaka ($1.20) was cheap and good. Sure, it was a small bowl, but isn’t that all you need at the end of a meal? The sago came splashed with coconut milk and the gula melaka (palm sugar) syrup came in a little jug of warm goodness. The gula melaka was rich and caramelly while the sago was cooked till just soft, a perfect combination of sweet and bland.

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My brother had the pulut hitam (black glutinous rice porridge). It was coochengked with dried longan and finished off with coconut milk. I liked it because it was smooth and creamy without being cloying. It wasn’t too sweet and had a cheng (light) taste.

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Dinner for three came up to about $60. It’s reasonably priced considering the town location. While  my Peranakan friends would probably sniff at the not-quite authentic food, the cooking is good and it’s a worthy option for a quiet and convenient place for dinner.

The Arch Straits Cuisine
32 Seah Street
Tel: 6837 3132