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

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

Minang Nasi Padang: Best Beef Rendang Ever

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Shinta and I were in the Arab Street area so we had to drop by Minang Nasi Padang for lunch. DC had raved about it before (he’s now raving about another place, but more about that in a later post). As usual, we ordered too much. Between the two of us we had beef rendang, curry chicken, squid in its own ink, begedil and sweet potato leaves cooked in coconut milk.

It was all very good quality, with the tender, well-spiced chicken and the richly gravied potato leaves being above average. The  dry-style beef rendang, however, stole the show. Its incredibly depth of flavour and smokiness blew me away. They spiced the dish incredibly well and toasted the spices so well that the slightly tough texture of the meat actually added to its allure. Upon further chewing, the meat yielded more flavour. Despite the lack of tenderness, it’s my favourite beef rendang thus far.

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Minang Nasi Padang
18 & 18A Kandahar St
Tel: 9457 7384

Hajah Maimunah

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Hajah Maimunah is the grandmummy of nasi padang places. It’s got lots of very excellent stuff. Make sure you get there early so you get the best selection. There’s always  a queue, so try to avoid the peak lunch period. The day we went, the stars of the meal were the grilled parrotfish and the tahu telor. The parrotfish was done to perfection as parrotfish is very often overcooked. Here, the firm flesh that so easily goes tough and rough was just yielding and incredibly fresh and sweet. Coupled with the kicap manis with chilli and lime juice, the fish was all I really needed. But wait! There was the tahu telor. The tower of good quality taukwa was deep fried till crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. It was another triumph of deepfry and sweet sauce.

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Other good things of note: begedil, grilled chicken with sambal, sayur lodeh. The begedil was soft and flavourful, I always love these potato patties. The grilled chicken with sambal chilli was tender and the sambal full of complex spices. The sayur lodeh had heaps of tender vegetables and very yummy tempeh inside. The beef rendang was good too, with an incredibly aromatic rempah, the only downside was that the meat could have been a lot more tender.

Another excellent thing about the place is the incredibly array of desserts there. There are quite a few different sweet soups like green bean soup and boiled bananas in coconut milk. We didn’t have room for that and took away some kueh-kueh. There’s such a mind-boggling variety there. All I can say is that all the ones I tried were good!

Go try other dishes there and let me know what else is good!

Hajah Maimunah
20 Joo Chiat Road #01-02
Tel: 6348 5457

Possibly the Best Vegetarian Food in Singapore

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Naive was so good we went there twice in a month, a rarity considering how promiscuous we are with our food places. This post is an amalgamation of both visits. At the start of the meal, a waiter will bring round a mortar and pestle filled with black and white sesame seeds for a wellness ritual of sorts. It was quite a nice start grinding up the seeds for sprinkling onto our food later.

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We started off with the excellent and almost unbelievably good brown olive rice. With the savoury olive paste inside, it was tasty enough to eat on its own. The kaffir lime leaf strips on the top brought it up a notch so much so that it was almost a waste to eat the rice with the dishes!

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The tamarind tofu cake was flavourful and the firm tofu tasting almost meaty. It really didn’t taste at all like I was eating a vegetarian dish. I liked how the seaweed wrapping the tofu gave it plenty of umami flavour that went well with the spicy tangy sauce.

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My favourite dishes were the monkeyhead mushroom ones. I can’t decide which is better, the braised version (Enchanted Forest) or the slivered and fried version (can’t remember the name).

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Both versions tasted fairly similar, they probably used the same sauce. It was made from good stock nonetheless and I’ll definitely have it again. I liked the texture of both versions. The fried version had a very nice crisp-chewy texture while the braised version was somehow firm and again, almost meaty. It certainly didn’t feel like I was eating vegetarian here.

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There were quite a few dishes that didn’t work for me. DC liked the golden oats (it’s his soft spot), but I felt that it was too pedestrian. The tofu in the dish didn’t shine at all. There was also the rendang tofu paired with mantou. That flopped because the taste was neither here nor there and the mantou gave the wrong taste associations: tongue was expecting darkly savoury and sweet, but got spicy instead. A big no-no.

I also didn’t like the steamed tofu with water chestnut and orange sauce. It didn’t help that the service is a bit odd: our waitress was this “I know better than your mum” type who didn’t get her recommendations right. She told us that the special of the day was two kinds of steamed tofu, one was orange and watercress and the other something I can’t remember. I expected that it would be a pairing of tofu, which would be rather interesting, but we were disappointed. It was also a bit annoying to find that the portions were really small. At first, we ordered only one olive rice and asked for a bowl so we could share. When the food arrived, we realised that we needed extra. At this point, the server took away the empty bowl, meaning that we couldn’t even share out the first bowl of rice and start eating. Sure, the second rice arrived very soon, but befuddling moments like these punctuated our entire meal.

Last gripe: the bowls are pretty but hopelessly impractical. The sloping sides made it impossible to rest our chopsticks  naturally in between bites. I kept trying to put my chopsticks down only to realise belatedly that I had to angle them 90 degrees before it would work. Eat there and you’ll realise it.

Final verdict: the cooking at this place is very good, if they fail it’s because of the flavour profile falls flat, not the textures or cooking technique. There are some dishes that work really well, especially the signature monkeyhead mushroom and tofu cake dishes, as well as the olive rice. Other dishes aren’t so good, so be careful of the side-ish dishes. The place is too expensive for what you get and the service is very odd! (See above, plus they don’t take reservations for groups of less than five. I don’t see what’s stopping people from making reservations for five, turning up with three and telling the restaurant that the others didn’t want to go because of their odd requirements.)

99 East Coast Road
Tel: 6348 0668