An Indian Dinner: Khansama Tandoori Restaurant and Komala Vilas

A bunch of us decided that we should have a big Indian dinner and we picked out one in Little India. Khansama Tandoori Restaurant is highly rated on Tripadvisor and it was not surprising to see lots of tourists here.

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They had lots of interesting carvings as part of the decor, which adds a lot to the Little India atmosphere, touristy as it may be.

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We started with some drinks – I liked the jaljeera here. It’s a salty, minty lemonade spiked with cumin that’s a bit of an acquired taste. Most drink it expecting a sweet drink and the swamp-like colour doesn’t really add to the appeal. I like its refreshing flavour and change from the usual over-sugared carbonated drinks.

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It’s topped off with crunchy fried dough bits, so you need to eat that quickly before it gets soggy.

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For starters we had a chicken kebab platter with different kinds of marinade. My favourite was a dark green one with spinach in it. The spinach smoothed the spices nicely, paving the way for the main course.

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We also had some side dishes, like the palak paneer, a must-have for me when having anything tandoori. I love the smooth spicy spinach paste that goes so well with the curd cheese.

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We also had a mushroom curry which was OK (I don’t even remember what it is!), at least we got some fibre in the meal.

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The naan was pretty good, but the roti less so. I liked the light texture and fragrance.

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And then came the star of the show – the Sikandar Ran, a whole roasted leg of lamb. It’s hard to see exactly how big it is because they gave us a massive knife to cut the massive leg.

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It was quite an interesting experience to tuck into such a big portion of meat, but I found it a bit tough and poorly seasoned for my taste. The marinade on the outside was mainly just chilli hot and nothing else. A pity given our high hopes.

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Still, some people enjoyed it, like DC. Here he’s happily gnawing on one of the bones, so you can see how big it is.

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Khansama Tandoori Restaurant
166 Serangoon Road
Tel: +65 6299 0300

 

We next headed off for dessert and popped into Komala Villas. Since there wasn’t any space in the restaurant, we took it away and enjoyed it over some TV at Eeyore’s place.

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They were generally sweet and floury and nutty, and we forgot the names once leaving the place. The only truly memorable one was the sour jalebi: see the orange swirled pastry in the picture. I liked how it was like a sweet fried pretzel soaked in sour syrup. Very moreish after a heavy dinner.

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Komala Vilas: Sweets and Savouries
82 Serangoon Road
Tel: +65 6294 3294

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Wakatobi: The Resort

Wakatobi is a stunning resort. It’s set in remote Southeast Sulawesi on a little island with nothing else except a little village accompanying it nearby. The water was always a beautiful deep blue, proof of the clear water that heralded good visibility on all our diving days. The resort consists of a longhouse for a reception area, media room and library/lounge with small huts scattered round as guest rooms. They have beautiful luxurious villas too, complete with private swimming pool and direct beach access, which alas we couldn’t afford.

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One jetty is all you need for a resort this intimate, especially when there’s a bar right at the end.

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But wait, more important is the restaurant nestled in the greenery round the bend of the island.

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It’s has an open verandah concept with buffet service, which is great for busy times especially at breakfast and lunch when people don’t linger too long as there’s beautiful diving ahead.

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The food was pretty varied and inventive considering that it had all been flown in together with us. Only the fish and local vegetables were sourced in the area. Breakfast the usual selection of cereals, fruit, baked items, eggs done any style and pancakes made in front of you. Lunch was slightly more lavish, with a good selection of appetisers and salad, hot mains with both western and Indonesian selections and daily pasta (gnocchi, ravioli, et al) made to order. It was a pity that the Indonesian food was completely non-spicy, but the awesome sambal ulek made up for it. Dinner was were they pulled out the stops, with exciting appetisers such as super fresh tuna sashimi, deep-fried prawns wrapped in noodles (done dim sum style) and feta cheese and tomato profiteroles. This was followed by a good selection of western and asian mains. What we looked forward to was always the night’s roast. Memorable ones were the chicken done Indonesian-style, the meltingly tender lamb ribs (best I’ve had in a long time), and the tasty beef roast. There was also a nightly station that served up something interesting, like vegetable tempura cooked to order, sop daging, or crepes suzette flamed to order. Desserts were decent too, with at least one local option reminiscent of the kueh kueh we get in Singapore.

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Accompanying the delightful food was a delightful view of the ocean and amazingly warm and attentive service. One night, we sat outside under the stars on the beach for a romantic dinner. I grabbed a sop daging from the soup station and forgot to take a spoon. Before I could get up to take one, a waiter had come round, scanned our table in the dim lighting, and come straight back with a spoon. There people are mind readers! They were always so helpful and eager to please, yet not ingratiatingly so. Lovely!

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Most evenings we were at the resort enjoying the sunset. There were plenty of deck chairs and seats under umbrellas to lounge at…

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… but we preferred to go to the jetty bar…

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… where we ordered strong but rather bad cocktails at US$10-12 each. That’s the only thing that’s remotely worth complaining about. The good thing is that we saved money by not ordering anymore after that!

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And now for the room. We stayed in the cheapest option: the garden bungalow, which was more than enough to meet our needs. I somehow forgot to take a picture of the outside, each hut on stilts had a little sand garden with two deck chairs to lounge at and an ample front balcony to sit at and to hang wet gear. The inside had a canopied king-size bed where the staff expressed their creativity in towel art.

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Check out this cute monkey. I was so sad when I sat on the bed and it toppled over. But that didn’t detract from the comfortable stay we had, of course. The housekeeping staff were very sweet too, sending us an extra jug of water “just in case” when we were out of drinking water.

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Each night before going to bed, we made sure that we analysed our tanks for the next day’s diving with nitrox. This is a special blend with more oxygen so that we could stay slightly deeper for longer. There was plenty of space in the clean and well-organised dive centre and the place was so well-run that even our individual cups were washed and then topped up at the start of each day. We didn’t even need to fill them ourselves!

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And the diving? Before each dive, there was a briefing complete with hand-drawn map of the dive site and explanation of the currents and what to expect in the 70 minuteswe were underwater (yup you didn’t see wrong, dives here are looooong).

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And here’s a teaser to show you what it’s like, stay tuned!

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Half a meal at Bistro Soori and a Re-visit to Tea Chapter

By the time we left Esquina, it was barely 8pm on a Friday evening and we were worried that all the nice places in the Chinatown area would be packed and we weren’t sure they’d give us a table just for dessert. Here’s where Bistro Soori really shone. It’s just diagonally across from Esquina and couldn’t be more different. It is a quiet dinner place, more for an intimate first date than raucous socialising. The place was fairly empty and almost entirely taken by reservations, but thankfully there was a lovely place overlooking the prep stations at a bar counter and we were very happy to sit and watch the chefs at work while proceeding with our gluttony. When presented with the menu, we couldn’t help thumbing through the rest of the courses instead of simply zeroing in on the desserts. Here’s where we all exchanged slightly guilty looks at our greed and asked each other almost simultaneously if we could share the one dish that caught our fancy – the uni, scallop and prawn risotto ($35).

The chef started preparing it right in front of us. I was surprised by how quickly he put it together, first carefully removing two generous strips of uni from its wooden bed and mashing one while reserving the other, then taking half-cooked rice from one jumbo tub in the fridge, and adding broth and various seasonings to the pot. The risotto was plated carefully and finished with a fluorish of grated cheese and baby basil leaves. I was slightly taken aback by how soupy it looked and I was bracing myself for the worst, until spoon hit tongue, I chewed, and an epiphany occurred. Could it be true? We just had a very good tapas dinner, could this surpass that? It was indeed. The first thing that hits when tasting this dish was the clarity of flavours. The taste was of the sea – slightly briney, and tasting intensely of slate and mineral. Then a hint of yuzu rang out and there I was again, reaching out for my next spoonful of risotto. With the fresh uni, it was full of that strange quality of creamy seafood that only sea urchin has. The prawn was lovely enough, but the scallop was amazing. It was seared just so and sliced to let out the juices. The risotto with scallop juices was simply astounding. To completely let go with my histrionics and overblown comparisons (this is me all excited about the dish), it was as if we were released from Plato’s Cave and finally got to taste risotto and scallop and sea urchin in their ur-forms. I think it’ll go down a treat with a bone dry, minerally sauvignon blanc or muscadet. DC thinks it’s a lot of fuss about a dish, but this is the best I’ve had for the year so far. Go try it and taste for yourself!

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Back to the matter at hand: dessert. We ordered pineapple cake with coconut cream frosting ($12).  The cake had a strange gummy texture, as if a heavy flourless batter had been shot through with bubbles. The closest texture comparison is the local kueh ambon with its vertical chambers. DC really loved it. One of the chefs told us that the cake was fat-free and had been made by using a foam canister to extrude the batter into the tin, that was how they achieved the heavy lightness. The coconut frosting was quite good too, that I’m sure had plenty of fat in it!

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Chris absolutely had to have her pandan souffle ($12). She’d been here before and fell in love with this dessert at her last visit. The small cake came out super high with a yummy brown top. It tasted a lot like traditional pandan chiffon cake, just far softer and moister. It was light and lovely. I could eat two on my own! The little biscuit on the side was a good contrast as it was slightly salty, a nice plain foil to the aromatic pandan.

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I very much hope to come back here soon, but that will have to wait till another day!

Bistro Soori
2 Teck Lim Rd
Singapore 088380
Tel: +65 6438 3802

In the mean time, other diversions awaited. The night was yet young and we traipsed around the area looking for another place to either have more food or for a drink. Since we’d all driven there separately (so eco-unfriendly, I know), we couldn’t drink anything alcoholic. We also reached the limits of our greed and were very glad to come across Tea Chapter at Neil Road. It was a $7 minimum order per person for the tea, so that meant that we had to get something that was worth at least $21. We chose the silver needles white tea ($28) and our server very kindly made the first pot for us.

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First, she poured the hot water into the little teapot to steep before transferring it into a beaker when the time was up.

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When we wanted to enjoy it, we poured some into the tall cup to enjoy the aroma, and then into the short cup to sip the tea.

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The tea was very enjoyable, especially between the various steeps of the tea. It went from delicately floral to more tannic and robust from the first pour to the fifth (that’s the maximum you can go). But more fun was watching Chris and DC play Othello. Not surprisingly, Chris won: she has plenty of practice playing against her son. Me? I just sat back and tried my hand at brewing the tea.

Tea Chapter
9 Neil Road
Singapore 088808
Tel: +65 6226 1175

Salta

DC and I spied Salta, an Argentinian restaurant tucked away in a corner, when we wandered round Icon Village. It’s not along the main drag, so it’s not so easy to spot. Look for it in the alley between the artisan bakery and roast chicken place. We started with the empanadas (three for $8). They were somewhat like our local curry puffs, just baked instead of fried, and with beef and capsicum filling instead of curry chicken. It was decent, but not spectacular.

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We then opted for a Parrillada for two, essentially a mixed grill with short ribs, beef skirt, chicken, black hog, mixed sausage, lamb rack, grilled vegetables and potatoes ($81). It was an incredible amount of food, with two large pieces of each type of meat. They did the beef just as we like it – rare. I like how the meat was very straightforward, tasting uncomplicatedly of good meat. I liked how well they grilled the chicken thigh so that the skin was wonderfully crisp. Very good.

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There wasn’t space in the main platter for the vegetables. They were grilled perfectly and made a great foil to the meat. I don’t even remember the potatoes, but they weren’t needed as there was so much food!

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Needless to say, we hadn’t room for dessert. More’s the pity since I have a soft spot for dulce de leche. We need to go back.

SALTA Argentine Parrilla + Grocer
Icon Village
12 Gopeng Street #01-56
Tel: +65 6225 8443

La Braceria: My Current Favourite Italian Place

La Braceria came up in a search for newish Italian places in town. I’ve since been there a couple of times and the food was excellent. Here’s a combined review of what I’ve eaten there. First, you have to have the antipasti platter with creamy cheese, assorted cured meats and grilled vegetables. The first time, we had a beautiful burratta, which is cow’s milk mozzarella augmented with cream. It was beautiful – rich, creamy and decadent. The grilled vegetables were a stunning counterfoil as they were masterfully cooked – tender, uber yummy (somehow very tasty from vegetable goodness rather than addition of herbs) and charred in the right places. Then the cured meats. They had mortadella, which I’m not super fond of, and parma ham. The parma ham is one of the best I’ve had in Singapore. It’s not over-salted like most parma ham that makes it to our shores. Rather, it was delicately flavoured and very moreish.

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The next time I was there, they hadn’t any burratta, but they made up for it by serving bufala (made from buffalo milk and not augmented with cream – buffalo milk is already much richer than cow’s milk) instead. It was equally yummy. Though less creamy than burratta, it had a pristine, almost grassy flavour. The grilled vegetables were excellent as always and the mushrooms were juicy and succulent like the last time. I was so glad that they had more of the tiny little shrooms this time. And the parma ham? Still as good as ever. They have a great produce supplier!

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On my second visit, they had a special of airflown mussels. Though a small serving for about $20, they were well worth it. The small morsels were plump and juicy and bursting with the sweet flavour of the sea and the white wine it was cooked in. We asked for more bread to mop up the juices even though there was plenty more food coming.

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The next dish, crab linguine ($22), is a firm favourite. The first time I ordered it, I wasn’t sure if it was worth my while because there didn’t seem to be a great deal of crab in it. Sure, the tomato base was buttery and rich, but there was something slightly lacking. The strange thing was that I kept picking at it, and before long, I found that I couldn’t stop eating it! The second time round, they seemed to have fixed the problem and we all had to fight for our portions of crab linguine. Definitely something to order over and over again. What’s lacking in actual crab chunks is made up for in sheer flavour.

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Then came the pizza. It’s decent, but not mind blowing. The magherita pizza was well-received by a discerning 7 year old but I didn’t find anything special about it. (By the way, the Slurpee in the background is from 7 Eleven and not from La Braceria!)

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On visit #2, the pizza crust was still the same – not quite thin enough to be nicely crisp but decent enough. But the topping we chose was nicer. The pizza alla braceria was topped with mozzarella, beef tenderloin and porcini. The beef was yummy as I could just taste the blood on it, too bad it was a touch overcooked. The porcini was perfect, though. It was soft and slightly truffly. Excellent.

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Also on visit #2 was the roast pork special. The rest thought it, well, special. I thought it was well executed but lacking oomph. The meat had bite yet was tender (belly pork, see) and the crackling just about crispy but not light and heavenly.

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On visit #2, we didn’t have space for dessert, mainly because of lack of will. Because on the first visit, the Braceria cheesecake was a little underwhelming. It was a bit like eating a solid block of cream, as if the cream was whipped till light and frozen, but was somehow not freezing cold. I guess it was good execution, but didn’t do anything to me flavour-wise. Save your calories for the antipasti and pasta.

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La Braceria
5 Greendale Avenue
Tel: +65 6465 5918

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

Mmmmortons!

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DC and I had a special occasion to celebrate and celebrate we did! We dressed up and went to Morton’s for a blow out meal. The onion bread that started our dinner was an omen of things to come – see how huge it is? We only nibbled a  bit of the soft bread while waiting for the typical show and tell that the menu was about.

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Already being forewarned that we would eat until we couldn’t eat no more, we shared half a dozen fresh Pacific oysters ($36.50) to start. They were fresh and sweetly briney, going very well with just a squeeze of lemon juice and less well with the cocktail sauce and grated horseradish. The saltines – crackers in cellophane packets – were an inexplicable, yet totally American addition to the appetisers.

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Then came the mains. DC was rather restrained (!) and went for a 400g double cut filet mignon ($97). Sorry for the poor lighting in the picture, but look at how high the steak is. It was done nice and rare. While a very tender cut, it wasn’t the tastiest I’ve had. Perhaps in aging the meat, all the blood is drained out and a lot of the taste is gone. Either that, or my main stole the show.

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When the server showed us the live Maine lobster ($50 per lb) in the menu demonstration, I knew that I was destined to have it. It was 3.5 lbs and was baked in butter. They even gave me a bib so that I could get cracking! This was lobster like I’ve never had before. I never really understand why people like lobster so much, because I’m such a fan of the tender, sweet flavour of crab. This lobster was incredibly sweet, tasting of the sea. It was firm and full of flavour, needing only a dab of melted butter at first, then a squeeze of lemon as the richness of lobster and butter began to sate. The head bits were the richest parts of the lobster, and the best part was that it could be eaten with a spoon. The lobster was amazing, huge and way too much for me. I gave up after eating half the lobster tail and a chalky tasting claw (weakest link). DC had to help with the rest so that I could have room for dessert.

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We finished off the meal with a slice of key lime pie, compliments of the restaurant. The custard part was tart and incredibly sweet, for once the cream was an absolute must so as to cut through the sweetness of the filling. It was a fitting end to our calorie-laden and very American dinner.

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At Morton’s, the service is impeccable. People come here for celebrations and the staff do their best to make everyone feel like it’s a special treat. In fact, it seemed that half the restaurant was celebrating birthdays. For us, the staff went all out to make sure we were OK (three different staff, from the manager to our own server asked if the food was fine and that we were having a good time) and even printed out a menu with our names and a congratulatory message on it as a souvenir. As an overall experience, Morton’s, while terribly expensive, is worth the while, simply because you and the food are the stars for the night.

Morton’s
Mandarin Oriental Singapore
Fourth Storey
5 Raffles Avenue
Tel: +65 6339 3740