Long Weekend Getaway – Eating at Mai Khao Beach

We didn’t just do nothing on our getaway. Of course we had to eat quite a bit too. We walked along the beach from the Renaissance all the way to the JW Marriott. There was a little shack serving up lunch here and we stopped her for a coconut and a bit of food to admire the view by.

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The food was decent considering the place didn’t have any electricity. All the cold drinks were packed in ice boxes and presumably the fresh food too. The tomyum soup was decent enough, but rather ghetto-looking.

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So were the fried garlic prawns. Nothing to shout about. Just showing you what’s available.

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Closer to the Renaissance neck of the woods is something better. It’s a shack made out of concrete and having electricity. Nong Mai-rim Lay wasn’t too bad at all, especially considering a big seafood meal for two, including drinks, only cost us 780 baht (S$32).

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We had the de rigueur tomyam soup, made Southern-style with plenty of tomyum spice paste and a splash of coconut milk to make it creamy. The prawns were very fresh, but I was disappointed that they didn’t add my favourite straw mushrooms, something I always look forward to getting fresh in Thailand. We had a bit of a squid overload that day. There was plenty of squid in the soup…

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… there was a mediocre squid with basil…

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… and we had yet more squid in a foil-wrapped creamy seafood curry. It seems like a form of Singapore otak-otak – with a very thick coconut gravy binding the seafood, which included plenty of squid. This was very yummy. It had crab in it too, which added an extra dimension to the flavour.

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On this trip, we lazed around, went cycling in bright pink bicycles and ate loads on the beach. I think it was a good trip!

Bunker

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Bunker is a restaurant tucked in a little known corner in Changi. It’s right next to Johore Battery (whut? I hear you say), just beyond Changi prison complex and directly opposite Selarang Camp.  For the history buffs out there, the Johore Battery was the only 15-inch gun battery that was not able to swivel round to fire on the Japanese troops arriving from the north.  I guess the Sultan of Johore didn’t like the idea of the guns that he was paying for being able to turn in his direction.

Rather incongruously, Bunker features a very nice chill-out open-air bar and an indoor fine dining restaurant that serves decent western food.  Unsurprisingly, given the location, Bunker has a monopoly on fine dining options in this part of Singapore and the place was quite full even though we were visiting on a weekday.

The first course we tried was the rather ubiquitous escargot, which was alright but nothing special.  DC didn’t think the hazelnuts stuffed into the escargot shell added that much to the flavour. I don’t like the escargot because of the car tyre texture, and this didn’t change my perception.

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Next up was a field mushroom soup, which I thought was good because of the clear, strong mushroom flavour. Then again, I’m a sucker for mushroom soup because DC didn’t find it very special.

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The seafood salad was a bit better, as it had nice large prawns in it.  However there was a tad too much oil drizzled over the salad which had the effect of drowning any other flavour the dressing may have had.

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For the main course, we had the Asian-style seafood spaghetti, which was actually spaghetti in some sort of laksa-tom yam concoction.DC liked this a lot.  I guess it was like laksa, but had a bite of sourness to it mixed in with the creamy texture to create a slightly unusual taste profile.

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You’ll notice we were very restrained in our ordering this time.  I guess we were on a diet!

Bunker is a good idea, especially for people who are stuck out in the Changi village side of Singapore and are looking for a finer dining option.  The open-air bar is really lovely and you should try to get one of the private gazebos for a really romantic dining experience.  Bunker also offers interesting and decently-priced weekday set lunches that offer a decent alternative to the usual local fare around the area.  Do take the opportunity to check out this place one day and chill out among the remnants of Singapore’s WWII history!

Bunker
27 Cosford Road
Tel: +65 6466 9000

The Best Seafood Pasta Ever

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DC and I found ourselves at Club Street one evening and he led me to an old haunt (to him). It was about time he introduced it to me!

Cugini is a charming little trattoria with colour-coordinated cyan menu covers matching the cyan chairs and cyan aprons worn by the waitstaff. Such a cute touch!  It’s dimly lit for the romantic feel and also to make food photos look less appetising despite my camera’s fabulous low light setting.

I liked how they added a little character to the ubiquitous bread basket by adding cherry tomatoes to the bread and providing a zingy horseradish dip. Yummy dip, though I’m not a big fan of how Italian bread tends to have a more collapsed texture compared to regular stuff. It’s probably because the bread is more proofed. DC loves it, so it’s just me!

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I ordered the Pizza Fiorentina ($20.90), with spinach and egg on top. I was rather dismayed that the egg came fully cooked, looks like the wood-fired oven was that hot that they couldn’t cook it any gentler. It was a very decent rendition, with a substantial enough crust that was thin but not so thin as to make it difficult to hold up with the fingers for eating the barbaric way. I liked how rustic the thin crust was. That said, it’s something that absolutely had to be eaten piping hot from the pizza stone, otherwise it gets soggy and slightly stodgy. Also, the tomato sauce tasted like they didn’t do a great deal to canned tomatoes to make it. I haven’t got anything against canned stuff, but the tomato base on pizzas absolutely needs to taste fresh and zingy. This one didn’t quite hit the mark. All in all, a decent rendition, though not worth a special trip for.

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Now what’s worth a special trip and an extra special mention is the phenomenal seafood spaghetti ($24.90). It’s off the menu and DC, having been there before, knew to ask. I tell you, it’s the best seafood pasta I’ve had in my life (at least as far as I remember). Oh my, it was the sauce that made it so incredibly. Where the tomato sauce on the pizza fell short, this one made up for it and more! It was thick, zesty and very full of flavour. There was plenty of clean seafood flavour, and probably a hint of white wine in it. I don’t know how the chef managed to pack so much seafood taste into the sauce, I could just eat the spaghetti and the sauce on its own… And talking about the spaghetti! Oh my, I thought I knew my al dente, but this al dente rocked my world. It was made so perfectly that the stars aligned at that point (and I probably should’ve gone to buy 4D). Let me attempt to describe it: there was chewy and yielding, there was tenderness, and there was noodle that was cooked through; it didn’t have a hint of durum hardness that you sometimes have to bear with for the sake of al dente, there was any sogginess that came with overcooking. This was, quite simply, the epitome of pasta and sauce. Now, it would’ve rated perfection in my books except for… the seafood. The fish was fresh and cooked just right, but the prawns were rather overdone and a bit meh. There wasn’t any other seafood, which was odd. I do love the crunch of slightly overcooked squid. So here’s my sad face about the seafood part not quite being up to par. But I must stress that the pasta and the sauce are probably the best thing that’s happened to me food-wise this year.

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Do yourself a favour and eat the seafood pasta.

Cugini
87 Club Street #01-01
Tel: 6221 3791

A Whirlwind Trip: Getting into Milan

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I went for a work trip in July last year and was lucky enough that it involved a whirlwind trip of the shopping capitals of Europe, with the first stop being Milan. We took the red-eye flight which meant that we got off the plane early enough to have breakfast at a bar just before our first meeting. We were thankful for the Italian custom of drinking espresso like water and helped ourselves to copious amounts of the brew to keep us awake in the business discussions.

One of the companies we met was very hospitable and brought us to Trattoria Del Drago for a very welcome lunch. The trattoria was set in a little garden and there was a lovely relaxed vibe to it. We had a lovely white wine to go with our lunch, the Picol 2008 (14%). It was a light and crisp sauvignon blanc with a lime flower nose and plenty of slate in the finish. It was a lovely accompaniment to our appetiser.

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And what an appetiser it was! A typically Milanese starter of seafood carpaccio, this is Italy’s answer to sashimi. There was impossibly fresh salmon, tuna and white fish with two types of prawns. It was all dressed lightly in olive oil and was wonderfully tasty, each bite bursting with the sweetness of the sea. I would definitely go back there just for this dish, far away as it may be from the touristy areas of Milan.

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My main was an orecchiette in a tomato cream sauce and a meat I cannot recall, probably chicken. Sadly, it wasn’t mindblowing and it was forgettable in my seafood-dazed, jetlagged stomach.

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Trattoria Del Drago
Via Pusiano, 63, 20132 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 2720 9849 ‎

Our last meeting was, curiously, in an old Roman building that housed the Milanese headquarters of a high tech company . We got through that aided with plenty of hot espresso from thermos flasks, drunk by the shot in tiny plastic cups. We thankfully sank into Hotel Spadari al Duomo, probably the most reasonably priced 4-star hotel of that standard in the area. It was a lovely and very modern hotel, with large enough and very comfortable rooms. 

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In contrast to the Duomo just around the corner, even the artwork on the walls was modern. I liked how the minibar was included in the price of the room (non-alcoholic drinks only), so I didn’t have to worry about finding a convenience store for water. It was a lovely touch especially coming in on a hot day.

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But the feature I liked best was the shower. There were three showerheads in there: a regular handheld shower head (not shown), a rain shower and a waterfall shower! It was fantastic standing under a wall of warm water after a long, long day simply enjoying the pressure of water against skin.

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It was a great hotel with very prompt and excellent service, from emailing for reservations to getting our excellent breakfast every morning to making reservations to depart for the airport. Well worth it!

Hotel Spadari al Duomo
Via Spadari 11 20123 Milano
Tel: +39.02.72002371
Email: reservation@spadarihotel.com

But no rest for the greedy. Before long, we had to regroup for dinner. We went for an early dinner nearby so that we could head back to crash out. An institution and therefore tourist hangout in the area was Trattoria Milanese, a pretty down home type place with unfortunately less down home prices. Still, it was considered reasonable for the area.

We started off with a mix of appetisers. On my plate are parma with melon; tomato with mozzarella and basil; and half a perfectly ripe, luscious summer fig. While not super fantastically good, I think the ingredients travelled far less than it would have if we had the meal back home in Singapore, making it fresher and tastier somehow.

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I made the classic glutton’s mistake of ordering osso bucco with risotto. Mind you, it was yummy and very well made, especially the osso bucco with its unctuous marrow just begging to be sucked dry. The risotto was no slacker either, al dente and richly aromatic. I managed to finish about a third of the plate and tried to parcel as much away to my dining companions as possible. It was such a pity that I couldn’t take away any for later.

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Full to bursting as I was, my greed yet again overreached and I found myself not simply ordering apple sorbet for dessert, but also nodding amicably when the waiter asked if I wanted it doused in Calvados. Unfortunately, the sorbet wasn’t at all tart and was a bit flat on taste, and the apple liqueur was more bitter than aromatic. Still, it sozzled me nicely and at the end of the meal I had to walk carefully so that I wouldn’t stumble on the cobblestones and fall flat on my face in front of the highest ranking person in my organisation.

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Trattoria Milanese
Via Santa Marta, 11, 20123 Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8645 1991 ‎

Thankfully, I made it back to the hotel in one jetlagged, sleep-deprived, espresso-ed out, stuffed-to-the-gills and pretty much sozzled piece. Another lovely waterfall shower later, and I was fast asleep, dreaming of my weekend to follow.

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

Skinny Pizza

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Skinny Pizza is a great place for me to pretend that I’m far away from the office. It’s a bit pricey but it’s probably as far from the Suntec Food Court as you can get. The downside though is that it’s right next to Strip, and DC’s overactive imagination kept thinking about fur flying over the low partition!

The pizzas here are very filling, it helps to share with friends! Even though the pizza base is very thin naan bread, the rich toppings make it incredibly filling. The best ratio for me is two people to one pizza. At least that way there’s a chance for some side dishes like the yummy sausage.

This time, however, there were three of us and we went for two pizzas instead. First up was the mushroom and truffle pizza. Here the mushroom veloute was smooth, rich and deep and with a punch of earthy truffle flavour. The onion helped cut through the earthiness and bitter herby rocket is always a plus in my book. However, after a slice of this I was ready for something else. It’s not something you’ll want to have loads of at one go.

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I felt that the squid ink base pizza fared much better. While not being particularly original, here was where the freshness of the ingredients and flavour combinations made in heaven really worked. The squid and prawn coated with tomato salsa and fresh flat-leaf parsley burst with seafood and herb sweetness. Needless to say, that was the star of the day.

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Other pizza flavours of note are the Provence and Ratatouille flavours which are both kinda similar. Pretty decent though.

I also like the apple cider here. It’s sweet without being overly so and is nice and light: a bit like dry sparkling apple juice. Like they say in the menu, it’s a great complement to the pizza.

Skinny Pizza
#01-002 Suntec City Galleria
Tel: 6333 9774

Oriole Part Deux

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We went back to Oriole to have a proper meal and were rewarded with excellent starters and mains. The potted crab was a lovely starter. I liked how the firm crab pieces blended well with the mayonnaise and generous amounts of pepper. The contrast with the crisp toasted bread and crunchy aromatic herbs was lovely.

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I had the beef cheek tagliatelle which was fantastic. It was one of the few dishes involving what’s normally a main course repurposed as pasta sauce that actually worked. The rich beefy sauce was absorbed well by the noodles and the mushrooms provided a burst of soft flavour ever so often. A definite reorder.

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Talking about reorders, the risotto was one as we enjoyed our taster of the last one very much. This time it was as good as ever. I think it was a slightly different version from before with a different fish (plus more too!) and asparagus included in it. Very good stuff.

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The dessert was where a bit of disappointment came in. The Eton Mess had overwhipped cream in it and wasn’t particularly special.

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Last of all was the espresso that we had to send back because it was too sour. Unfortunately the replacement espresso came back sour too, so we gave up. Nonetheless, KK says that coffee made by a certain barista is good, so we’ll have to reorder on a day when he’s there.

Oriole Cafe and Bar
96 Somerset Road
#01-01 Pan Pacific Serviced Suites
Tel: 6238 8348

Tea of Sorts at Oriole

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Of all meals, the gang met up for tea at KK’s favourite coffee place, Oriole. I can’t remember why but DC had missed lunch and used that as an excuse to order up his usual storm. The chicken quesadillas were pretty decent: they were well-stuffed with a good proportion of cheesy chicken and tomato to onion, though the overall dish wasn’t super flavourful.

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I liked its take on squid rings. Here they warned us that there was chilli and that it wasn’t crispy. I’m not sure how they did it but they somehow coated the fried calamari very evenly with some sort of chilli-tomato sambal. The squid was chewy and slightly tough, just the way I like it and the chilli had good kick. Excellent.

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Shinta decided that he must have seafood risotto for tea. That, apparently, was also his dinner so he was justified. Justified or not, his choice was impeccable as usual. The risotto was as it should: creamy yet al dente with clean seafood flavours well-accented by tomato. The grilled fish on top gilded the lily. I’d definitely order it for myself next time.

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I decided to go the slightly more sensible road and had an affogato for my mid-afternoon snack. The version here is more dessert than rich drink as it had chocolate-coated honeycomb and walnut (?) stirred into the ice cream. The ice cream was rich, the espresso bitter and strong, and the crumble toothachingly sweet. It’s one of the best versions of affogato I’ve had, almost eclipsing my all-time favourite hazelnut affogato.

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Oriole Cafe and Bar
96 Somerset Road
#01-01 Pan Pacific Serviced Suites
Tel: 6238 8348

March in Laos: Eating in Luang Prabang

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Laos in general and Luang Prabang in particular had lots of great food. Siamesecat and I started off one misty morning with a glass of thick, sweet and strong coffee chased down with a glass of steaming hot tea. Sitting on a wooden bench watching the morning bustle while sipping hot robust coffee was one of those subliminal moments of the trip.

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After having our caffeine and sugar fix, we table hopped to the next stall and tucked into the typical breakfast of foe (yup, almost exactly like Vietnamese pho). I don’t know how they make it so tasty, but thin flat rice noodles with hot broth, topped with herbs and raw vegetables to your preference hit the spot for me every day.   This morning the noodles came with pork strips and tomato. I could have noodles three times a day and not get sick of it. The trick was to experiment with the toppings provided at the table. They typically have salt, sugar, msg and chilli powder but there’s normally lime, basil, coriander, mint, sweet chilli sauce, various types of belachan (fermented shrimp paste) and fish sauce. I especially liked trying out the pongy variations of belachan at the different places.

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Foe is normally served in really small portions, which was fine with us because it gave us all the more reason to snack along the street. Here I’m stuffing my face yet again at a barbecue stand selling grilled animal parts like spicy minced pork patties, water buffalo jerky and belly pork. It was all mmm good.

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For lunch, we again had noodles, the one here a beef version with popped rice cracker-cakes on the side. If you look carefully you’ll spot the two small tubs of belachan on the table. One was the typical shrimp one and the other made of tiny river crabs. We noticed a lot of Lao people take a chilli padi, dip it in belachan, take a chomp and double dip it while waiting for their noodles. I guess the heat from the chilli kills the germs.

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Heavily fortified by all this food, Siamesecat and I proceeded to wander the streets. It was evening when we came across this vampire-phobic cat lying on a bed of garlic. It was obviously bed time.

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It looked incredibly satisfied at the end of that yawn!

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As the sun began to set, Siamesecat and I decided that we really should have something quite special. While we both loved noodles and never got tired of them, we had to try the slightly fancier food too.

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We found a restaurant along the Mekong and enjoyed the view while waiting for our food.

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This place served mainly set menus catering to tourists. We figured that it was as good as any other. Not having any locals to take us to truly authentic places, at least this would allow us to try a bit of everything.

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The set dinner started with watercress salad, a fresh minty salad with sharp watercress and other herbs dressed in a type of mayonnaise. Then it progressed to dried pork sausage with very spicy buffalo skin dip. The pork sausage was like a slightly less fatty salami with lovely smoked overtones while the dip had strips of rather tough buffalo hide bound by a fiery chilli paste. Crispy sheets of dried riverweed with sesame seeds helped to balance out the fire but the extremely spicy beef stew didn’t help things out.

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Siamesecat and I then hit the night market for incredibly cheap buys like a beautiful silk and cotton mix pair of fisherman pants for about USD2.50. There were pretty handicrafts and all sorts of ethnic and hill tribe knick knacks on sale. Apparently a lot of these items were brought over the border to Thailand for sale in their own tourist markets.

I stopped to buy something that couldn’t be exported easily to Thai tourist markets: more food. Supper that night was baguette filled with ping kai (barbecued chicken) and lettuce. It was up to me to choose my sauces again. This time it was at least three kinds of chilli sauce, two of which had some kind of fermented seafood incorporated within, and two types of soya sauce. Amazing.

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Relish

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It was raining so instead of our usual running date, DC and I went to stuff our faces with beer and hamburgers. Oh joy.

First, the beers. DC had the German Konig Ludwig Weissbier (5.5%) that was light, wheaty and smooth. I didn’t fancy it that much because it was a tad characterless and hadn’t much in the flavour department.  But true enough to the suggested pairing, it went well with his burger (see ginormous later).

I had the Belgian Titje Blanche (4.7%), also smooth and light but much better than the Konig Ludwig. It had a sweet and rounded fruity taste that I liked a lot. Slightly hoppy, it had a bitter aftertaste that balanced off the flavour profile very nicely. A worthy pairing with my seafood burger.

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DC ordered the bacon and cheese burger with guacamole on the side. It really is as huge as it looks! It was a rather decent burger: juicy though vaguely lacking in beefiness. I liked it together with all that sinful melted cheese, bacon and even more sinful guacamole. Accompanied by fries and mayonnaise, this probably negated our exercise gains for the month.

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I went for the seafood burger. It worked surprisingly well as the prawn, crab, squid and fish (?) combined very well.  Tasted good and had lots of texture from bouncy prawn to soft crab to rubbery (in a good way) squid. Enhanced by the lime mayonnaise it’s definitely a keeper. I’m coming back for this one.

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It was Wednesday, where there was some kind of ladies special. DC mock pouted as I tucked into my free chocolate cake. He’ll just have to come back wearing a skirt! For the record, it was very good. There was something a bit dense about the cake, as if there was too much cornstarch in the mix. Now don’t come telling me that molten choc cake is supposed to be dense. It’s not. Molten choc cake is supposed to be rich. Rich and dense are two different things. Anyhow, I’ll stop knocking the rather flavourless cake, it was free after all.

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501 Bukit Timah Road
#02-01 Cluny Court
Tel: 6763 1547