Ice Cream Chefs

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Ice Cream Chefs is a gem of an ice cream place that not only makes good ice cream, but also makes interesting flavours. Their specialty is the mix-ins, where they beat the ice cream to death on a refrigerated slab and wrestle in toppings like nuts and candy bars. We’d been here quite a few times and tried flavours like tau huey with almond mix-ins and apple with fruit pebble mix-ins.

This time we went, DC had cheese ice cream with honey star mix-in. It was a bizarre flavour that worked very well. Think cheese cake made with strong cheese and you’ve got the flavour of the ice cream. The sweet crunch of honey stars complemented it very well. Unfortunately more than a mouthful or two was enough for me, so I had to have my own.

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I had the black sesame one, which was thick and rich and full of sesame flavour. It was as if they froze black sesame soup (the kind you get in Chinese desserts) into an ice cream. Very nice.

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We also took away a tub of Kaya Lottee flavour, with waffles mixed in. It was delicately scented and very delicious. Thumbs up!

Ice Cream Chefs
520 East Coast Rd #01-06
Tel: +65 6446 6355

12 Jalan Kuras
Tel: +65 6458 4849

Saboten: Finally a Contender for Tonkichi’s Title

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I was thwarted yet again by the long queue outside the tonkotsu ramen place at Parco Marina Bay and opted to give Saboten a go instead. This chain from Shinjuku seems like a slighter more upmarket version of Tonkichi. Bizarrely enough, its name means “cactus” and it was chosen to represent vitality of all things. Go figure.

Anyhow, the free flow of finely shredded cabbage and yummy salad dressing made me very happy from the beginning. The cabbage was fresh and the two dressings so yummy I couldn’t quite decide which was better. The black stuff was soy, vinegar and yuzu dressing and the creamy brown one a sesame-based one. I ended up mixing the two so the salty soy-yuzu one was ameliorated by the creamy sesame. What a promising start!

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I went for the curry loin. The loin came with an immense amount of rice and curry sauce. Just too bad that the curry sauce was very authentically Japanese because it was a bit too sweet for my taste. Thankfully, DC was there to save the day and he appreciatively slurped up quite a bit of it on my behalf. Now the loin was very tasty, made from fresh pork and fried to perfection. I liked how the fried panko crumb bits had some heft to it, matching the pork nicely. This is not a dish for dieters as the loin was rimmed with a fairly substantial layer of fat. It gave the meat an interesting gradation from meltingly tender near the fat to substantial and almost tough towards the outer part. All good in my book!

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DC had the oyako don and he liked it. In his words, it was sticky and sweet. The meat was tender and flavourful, just too bad that the panko crumbs were a bit soft by the time it got to him. Special mention has to be made at this point for the pickles. While they don’t come free flow, the freshness and quality really shone through. I finished them in a flash and was dismayed when the waiter apologetically told us that they had to charge for extra if we wanted more. Oh well.

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At least there was dessert to compensate: green tea ice cream in nicely chilled bowls. Not bad, though we were there for the tonkatsu, not the ice cream!

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Saboten
#P3-01 Parco Marina Bay, Millenia Walk
Tel: 6333 3432

Quick Eats: Temple Street Desserts

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Mei Heong Yuen is famous for its excellent desserts. The standards are still high despite its popularity and the sheer volume of people and corresponding desserts passing through. I went for the tang yuan in ginger soup. The glutinous rice balls were soft and chewy and came in black sesame and peanut flavours. I liked the peanut one more as the filling had bits of crunch while being just the right sweetness. It contrasted nicely with the spicy ginger soup. Such traditional comfort food for me.

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Slightly less traditional was the shaved ice that was new to the menu. I like how they took a new-fangled idea and made it their own with the almond snow ice. It’s basically a block of their signature almond cream frozen and shaved into delicate layers. Same familiar flavour, quite a different and incredibly novel texture. I liked how the very slightly grainy almond layers melted in the mouth.

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I’ll definitely be there again soon, sooner if it’s a hot day!


Mei Heong Yuen Dessert
65-67 Temple Street
Tel: 6221 1156

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

Dimsum Pigout

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Four of us were out for lunch and we started off at Lao Beijing at Novena Square. It was all a disappointment except for the prawns in salted egg yolk sauce. Although slightly greasy, the lightly battered prawns were covered with very yummy salted egg sauce. I liked how they served it up fast enough that the prawn was still crisp and the savoury sauce coated just enough so as not to be cloying. Very well executed.

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To make up for the disappointment of the non-prawn majority of our lunch, we went for what we thought was dessert at a nearby dimsum place. Who knew we just had to order the best of the best and in a blink, we’d over-ordered again. At least we had some lovely rose tea to wash it all down.

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First up was the very excellently done carrot cake. It’s like an upmarket version of chai tow kway and it’s very good. The carrot cake is light, silky and well-browned and is nicely complemented with shacha chilli sauce. Very yummy.

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I have a special spot in my tummy for salted egg yolk and more savoury than sweet desserts. Case in point is the star of the meal: salted egg yolk custard buns. It’s not quite the same as another favourite of mine, the lai wong bao (custard bun). Rather, it’s a variation with some salted egg yolks crumbled into the custard. The chef is masterful as it’s done just so the custard is still oozy. Salty, sweet and luscious goodness against the bland sweet bun is amazing.

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I also quite liked the black sesame wobing. A twist on the classic red bean filling, I found the black sesame version just the right sweetness and also enjoyed very much the crisp pastry and very generous sprinkling of white sesame seeds on top. To our small consolation, DC informed us that this was baked, not fried hence having fewer calories. I suppose a saving of 10 calories in a meal of maybe 3,000 calories counts as something huh.

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Lao Beijing
238 Thomson Road
#02-11 Velocity @ Novena Square
Tel: 6358 4466

Old Hong Kong Kitchen
10 Sinaran Drive
#02-80 Novena Square 2
Tel: 6397 7023

Quick Meals: Black Bean Noodles

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I wanted to make something vegetarian and something quick. A pack of fermented black beans (tau si) had been sitting in my fridge for far too long, so I put two and two together and made these very satisfying noodles. The beans have such depth of flavour that it’s easy to forget that there’s no meat in it. For the noodles, use any dried wheat noodle. The packets are normally labelled la mian or some sort. I like to buy the bai yu (white jade) ones.

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Ingredients:

1 bundle dried wheat noodles
2 tsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tsp black beans, crushed
1 tsp sesame oil

Method:

  1. Boil the noodles in plenty of water till al dente.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan on medium and add the garlic and black beans. Fry till brown.
  3. Stir in the noodles and season to taste. Add soy sauce if you like.
  4. Top with sesame oil and serve with blanched vegetables on the side.

Serves 1.

Duck at the Lagoon

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It was the fourth day of Chinese New Year and lots of hawker stalls were still closed. Nonetheless, we braved it to East Coast Lagoon to get some lunch. To our relief, Cheok Kee Duck Rice was one of those open. Shockingly, there was a queue even though we got there at 2pm and the rest of the hawker centre was quite empty.

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Dad and I shared a ginormous plate of braised duck, gizzard, pig’s small intestine and tau kwa. I wasn’t expecting too much because I’d eaten there lots and never thought it was that fantastic. This time, the duck impressed me. It was stewed just right, till firm tender and absorbed the flavour of the black sauce. And it tasted robustly of duck. Yummy duck. The gizzard was pretty decent too, but Dad and Mum took most of it so I didn’t get a chance to properly taste it. Intestines were decent, better than the ones from the Amoy Street kway chap stall. The tau kwa was another winner: soft, creamy and full of black sauce goodness. ($15 for the plate of stuff and two bowls of noodles.)

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Check out the kway tiew dry. Enticing right? They were good, especially with the sambal chilli.

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Here are Mum’s fishball noodles. They’re from the stall nearer to the beach in front of the toilets. She said they had standard. I believe her. Check these out.

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I noticed that Zhen Jie from Amoy Street has a branch here, so I made sure I got my dessert fix. The peanut and black sesame cream ($2) is mighty good! The peanut part is very aromatic, you can tell they toasted the peanuts to make this. Thick and yummy. Dad liked the sesame part a lot because the sesame flavour was very strong. It’s a new favourite now that Yee Ku at Chinatown stopped making it right about 10 years ago.

The pulut hitam ($1.50) is good too. Thick, full of pulut flavour and topped with a good drizzle of coconut milk. They even ask you whether you want coconut on top. Tastes like how Mum would make it (if she bothers to).

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