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

Private Affairs

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DC took me to Private Affairs one Friday night to cheer me up after a stressful week. We weren’t sure about whether this place would last as we were the only ones there that night. We opted for the Luscious Dinner 4-course set ($98++). DC had a duck carpaccio that he liked a lot but didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. My Alaskan king crab, though, was wonderful. It really was lusciously seafood-y and briny, and bursting with fresh juiciness. The avocado mousse and passionfruit cream had just the right level of richness to complement the crab and the squid ink tuile provided a nice bit of contrast with its delicate crispness.

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For mains, DC had the Maine lobster. When I tried it, I almost regretted ordering what I did because the lobster, like my crab appetiser, burst with fresh, well, lobster flavour. It wasn’t your typical vaguely rubbery tasteless boiled lobster. This one was expertly cooked in a buttery foam, making me want to devour it shell and all. In fact, I think DC gnawed as much of his lobster shell as he could!

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Remember I almost regretted my order? But I didn’t. My main course of Welsh lamb loin held its own. Again, it was expertly cooked so that the lamb loin was tender and flavourful. Accompanied with the soy bean mash and the rich, intense jus of lamb and olive, this was very very good. (Unfortunately it paled against another dish I’ll blog about next time, but that’s a story for another time.)

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Our third dish was a pre-dessert. DC had a yummy cheese platter and I had a sorbet. Both were competent though not particularly anything to rave about. Plus, the lighting in the restaurant is so dim that it was impossible to get good pictures anyway. Good thing we were the only diners that night so we took pictures with flash whenever the wait staff weren’t looking (!).

For the real dessert, DC had peach tofu with salted caramel and lemongrass ice cream. The purple thing is a lavender sheet, which I felt tasted a bit like one of those  portable soap sheets for washing your hands. I liked the tofu a lot. It was very tender and smooth, more like tau fa than actual tofu. It was a bit like eating peach-scented egg tofu that was sweet.

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I had the chocolate mousse with miso sponge. The miso sponge was a very inventive touch to an otherwise tired dessert. I’m so glad he didn’t go down the molten choc cake route. Here, the miso sponge was very tender and very savoury, making for a lovely contrast to the sweet chocolate mousse and the deep flavour of the dark chocolate chips. It’s a pity he put pop rocks in the dessert. The dark chocolate “sand” is a bit overused in molecular gastronomy and I really don’t like the popping on my tongue.

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That dinner was good enough to send us back to Private Affairs a few weekends later for a semi-buffet brunch celebration. It was good value for money at $68++ per person without alcohol. The food wasn’t quite as exquisite as the dinner we had, but it was still pretty darn good. The idea was that we ordered whatever we liked from the brunch menu, from typical breakfast staples like mini-muffins, yogurt, pancakes and eggs, to brunch staples like fresh oysters, to more exciting things like cured sardine, panfried scallops and coffee ribs with a twist. All these we could order as many servings as we liked. For the main course, each chose one. Everyone liked their own main courses and I naturally felt that mine of melt-in-the-mouth sous vide French chicken was especially nice. If you want a taster for Private Affairs, the brunch is the way to go.

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Unfortunately it was third time unlucky when DC and I returned to Private Affairs. We tried out their celebratory 8-course menu for October consisting of greatest hits in the chef’s repertoire. There was the familiar course of many dishes, with some good and many others falling flat. I was deeply disappointed by the lack of quality control and lack of service recovery for a restaurant that aspires to this calibre. First, even though I made an email booking just like the previous brunch (with acknowledgement from the PR manager), they lost our booking and took a while to get us a table. It didn’t help that, unlike our first experience, the restaurant was full as there was a big group taking up much of the restaurant with a separate special menu and a few other tables doing the a la carte option. The kitchen was obviously not ready for this onslaught and some dishes came out different from described in the menu. For instance, the raw Hokkaido scallop with lettuce gazpacho jelly came with  a pool of bright green liquid instead of jelly and there was no way of eating the dish properly as we weren’t provided with spoons. We just had to fish out the scallop from the watery liquid and the wait staff later whisked away the plates, only looking slightly puzzled when I pointed out that we had no spoons and weren’t able to enjoy the dish properly.

No less, two dishes stood out. The kurobuta pork cheek with blood orange jelly was very good. I’m not sure about the slightly odd gel-like texture of the accompanying avocado gnocchi but the pork cheek itself was done so that it was meltingly good. The slightly tart and sweet blood orange jelly really lifted the flavour very well.

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The second noteworthy dish was the apple cake dessert. Again, there were parts that I didn’t quite agree with, in this case the apple cinnamon spaghetti. DC liked it a lot and slurped up mine too, but I found it a bit too molecular gastronomy, and too reminiscent of past biology experiments dealing with calcium alginate gels. It was a cute idea nonetheless. What blew me away what the apple cake itself. It was essentially an apple-flavoured cross between mousse and semifreddo, with apple jelly in the middle. I loved how it was just on the verge of melting and how the clean green apple flavours shone through very well. The lemongrass ice cream was a lovely light yet creamy accompaniment to the cake. Thumbs up!

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It was the last part of the dinner that disappointed me. The PR manager came over to chat with us. No matter that she didn’t apologise for the mix-up in reservations. She asked how the food was and I responded that it was patchy. Taken by surprised, she asked why and was reluctant to probe much further after I asked how much she wanted to know, showing her the brief notes I took on my slip of printed menu. She did concede that the lettuce gazpacho was meant to be a jelly and not liquid, and then said that the chef designed the menu out of popular dishes. Telling us that other people liked the menu certainly does not make me like a less than ideal experience more.

In short, this restaurant has lots of potential as the chef is obviously very talented. His kitchen and staff do on occasion let him down. It took me a long while to decide to post about this place as I have very mixed feelings about it. If you take my experience as a gauge, you’d probably get a good experience two-thirds of the time. For me, unfortunately, I’m not going to come back for a little while.

Private Affairs
45 Joo Chiat Place
Tel: 6440 0601

 

Quick Eats: Hot Tomato

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I went to Plaza Singapura for a quick lunch one weekday with a colleague and headed to an old favourite: Hot Tomato Express. I love how no-nonsense both the food and the prices are, and how the service is friendly and flexible. The set menu included either hot tea or pre-mixed iced lemon tea. Not only were they good enough to give us hot tea with ice instead of the usual over-sweetened iced tea, they also gave us lemon in the tea without us needing to ask. Plus, they even provided extra ice in case one glassful wasn’t enough. Now that’s what I call good service.

The food’s good and cheap too. I liked the lamb chop with aglio olio spaghetti. It costed only $13 for the set including soup and tea. The soup that day was tomato soup, a thick chunky version served with crisp garlic bread on the side. On to the lamb chop. It came with two generous chops, both nicely seared and browned on both sides. They were on the fatty side, so not for diet days, but the fat made such a difference! The brown sauce on the side made the (again!) generous serving of spaghetti very yummy and the green salad on the side was yet another bonus.

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In short, a great place for quick, cheap and very satisfying food.

Hot Tomato Express
68 Orchard Road #B2-40 Plaza Singapura
Tel: 6341 9162

Another Variation on the Tune of Anchovy

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Inspired by the pasta I had at Big D’s and also by the past due can of anchovies Mum dug out from the cupboard, I had to have a crack of my own version of the salty fishy stuff. As always when it comes to these weekday dinners, I was famished and tired from yet another long day in the office. In less than 20 minutes, I threw this together using stuff in the house and a mixture of herbs including some sad bits of coriander and spring onion Mum left in the fridge and some freshly bought flat-leaf parsley from the supermarket. Use whatever herbs you fancy, or whatever’s left in the fridge.

Anchovies can of course be very salty, but this varies enormously from brand to brand. Just taste as you go along before adding too much. Also, not salting the pasta helps too. I also add some chilli to spice things up a little. Here, I used some aglio olio e peperoncino powder Mum got from Italy (it’s otherwise inedible just on its own with pasta), although simply because it was another past due item begging to be used up. I’d also use fresh chilli or my usual standby of chopped chilli padi.

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Ingredients:

2 tbsp olive oil, preferably from the canned anchovies
6 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
small sheath spaghetti (enough for one)
5 anchovies tinned in oil
chilli, to taste
good handful of chopped herbs

Method:

  1. Start by sweating the shallots and garlic gently in the oil from the anchovies till barely golden brown.
  2. While still watching the shallots and garlic, boil the pasta in plenty of water till just before al dente. Do not salt the water.
  3. Going back to the shallots and garlic, add in the chopped anchovies and stir to break up into a paste. Sprinkle in the chilli and continue to stir.
  4. Toss in the pasta into the anchovy mixture, adding in a few spoonfuls of pasta water. Turn up the heat and stir till the water is absorbed and the mixture coats the pasta well. Add a few more spoonfuls of water if the mixture still doesn’t stick to the noodles.
  5. Slip in the herbs and stir, stir, stir.
  6. Serve immediately and devour.

For 1.

Restaurant Prices at a Coffee Shop Stall: Big D’s

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I’d probably be lynched by fans of Big D’s (including the friend who told me about it) when I say that I think the food is expensive. It could well be that the chef buys nothing but the best cuts and uses the best ingredients. It could also be that the chef doesn’t have enough bulk to warrant good prices from his suppliers. I found it a little disconcerting to pay restaurant prices for something at a coffee shop stall.

Nonetheless, the food was very good. DC and I shared a kurobuta pork chop ($28) and an anchovy pasta ($17). I liked how the pork was charred outside and just about done on the inside, with a smidgen of pink right in the centre of the cut. It was strangely difficult to cut (no steak knives here) but was just the right firmness I expected – slight give from the marbling of fat and good heft in the mouth. Plus, it had good porky flavour. The accompaniments were passable. I liked the slow-cooked peppers and surprisingly, also the baked beans. They were quite different from the canned version and are something like American Southern beans. Pretty yummy.  I’m on the fence on the strange sweet accompanying sauce (pineapple?) but DC didn’t mind it at all. I didn’t like the overly starchy mashed potatoes, and DC didn’t appreciate the stall telling him that he couldn’t change the mash to french fries because they “wouldn’t go.” Well, overly starchy mash doesn’t go with anything in my books.

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I liked the anchovy pasta. The spaghetti was on the verge of soft that was still acceptable, though I’d have preferred it more al dente. I suppose they cater more to the popular taste for soft noodles. The anchovy sauce was punchy, robust and of course redolent of anchovies. A bit of chilli added some kick to it. However, I think it’s not quite worth the price as anchovies aren’t that expensive. My plate only had a smallish heap of sauced pasta on it and nothing else. Sure, I’d only ordered just that but it’s a tad pricey no? Plus, I really ought to banish the thought but seeing as I could tweak the idea further at home and add all sorts of lovelies to it for half the price, I was slightly dismayed. It was still good though!

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Big D’s Grill
Blk 46 Holland Drive
#01-359

Massive Portions at a Teenage Joint

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Iluma is one of those places that seems like such a good idea but once you go in, you get bored so fast 10 minutes seems like an age. Unsurprisingly for a teenage-oriented place, this place is teeming with kid-wallet-friendly places. Empire State is one of them. Surprisingly for a teenage-oriented joint, this place has decent value for money food!

I insisted on having salad, so this starter came along. I was pleasantly surprised to see the fairly sophisticated touch of pistachios and grape halves under the balsamic cream dressing. Of course the teenage touch was having way too much dressing so after a while I gave up trying to scrape the extra off. Can’t fault them for being generous though.

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I thought I’d have a change from burger (DC was on a bit of a burger roll), so I went for the completely different spaghetti meatball. If I was a teenager, I’d be in heaven: it was one hell of a plate of pasta. Think of a huge plate of spaghetti smothered in bolognaise sauce and then have a giant meatball on top of it all. It’s crazy mound of food and it took ages to get through.

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DC of course went for the Empire State Burger. In a rare moment of weakness, he declared it the best burger he’d had in a while. I felt that while it was incredibly juicy, there wasn’t a whole lot of taste to it aside from salt. It wasn’t a bad burger though, and was hardly asking to be gourmet.

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This is a great joint for having a lot of food at decent prices. The tagline is spot-on: they’re sure to stuff you till you’re full. It’s a great place to take a teenager (or a DC for that matter!).

Empire State
201 Victoria Street
#04-03 Iluma At Bugis
Tel: 6238 7076

Decadent Chicken Pasta in White Sauce

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There was some leftover sour cream staring accusingly at me each time I opened the fridge door. Thing is, I wasn’t the one to buy it. Mum bought it for some cake she baked and left them for me to finish, I was innocent! Stuck for something to do with it, I opted for a cream sauce for pasta and figured that chicken probably went best with it. I also added in some of my favourite soft green peppercorns in brine I bought from a fancy supermarket. It worked pretty well.

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Ingredients:
linguine for one person
1 knob butter (about ½ tbsp, but no one’s looking, add as much as you like!)
2 shallots, chopped fine
1 chicken breast, cut into strips
1 tbsp dry sherry
2 tsp soft green peppercorns
50 ml sour cream

Method:

  1. Boil the pasta in lots of salted water.
  2. In the meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan and then sweat the shallots very gently on low heat. It should be bubbling gently and should not brown. Stir constantly.
  3. Turn up the heat to high, then add the chicken strips, stir till they change colour to white and add the splash of sherry and peppercorns. Stir, stir, stir.
  4. The pasta should be done by now. If not, wait for it. Just leave the chicken pan aside off the heat till you’re ready to go to the next step.
  5. Dump the pasta into the chicken pan, add the sour cream and turn the heat back on to medium. Stir till well coated.
  6. Taste and add salt accordingly, then serve.

Serves 1.