Pizzeria Mozza

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It’s not easy to get a table at Mozza. The first time we went, it was an impomptu treat from a regular and we had no idea of the privilege we had then. The next time, we called, hoping to get a reservation for the following evening, only to be told that we had to wait till the week after. So wait we did, and it didn’t disappoint. Make  sure you order lots of antipasti, they’re generally very good. We started with the chicken livers, capers, parsley and guanciale bruschetta ($17). The coarsely chopped liver paste on crisp toast is one of my favourite starters here, I love the not-quite pate texture of silky yet not completely smooth. The bacon crisp on top of guanciale (apparently bacon made from pork cheek) really was gilding the lily. Yummy. If you have space, also try the fagiole one, that’s pretty decent too.

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It seems a bit of an overkill to order bread to go along with our starters especially after the bruschetta, but the  fett’unta ($6) was really quite something. It’s a peasant-style bread cooked in a pan with olive oil to a very crisp crust, very yummy but also on the oily side. Eat with plenty of the next starter…

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… the prosciutto di parma and buffala mozzarella ($32). The buffala was creamy yet not heavy and was the perfect accompaniment to the salty prosciutto. We walloped it all with the bread. If you’re not so keen on ham, try the house made mozzarella with tomatoes, really excellent too.

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The marinated baby peppers with tuna ($16), while decent, was a bit of a weak link. It tasted like a starter on a hotel buffet line, which is not to say it was bad, it simply didn’t blow anything out of the water. Over-priced.

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We went for the pizza with ricotta, oyster mushrooms and shallots ($33). What I like about the pizzas here is that they are made to order and the ingredients are fresh, fresh, fresh. They even make their own ricotta in house. The ricotta was creamy and beautifully yielding, the perfect contrast to the crisp, fragrant bread base. Here, the pizza base is quite substantial, not the same as the thin crust variety that is so a la mode. This way, you get to really taste the bread and remember the pizza is in the end, bread with toppings, rather than toppings on a bread base.

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For dessert, the three of us were quite full from all that bread, so we share the banana gelato pie ($17). It’s basically banana ice cream on a biscuit base that’s topped with whipped cream, dark caramel sauce and plenty of toasted hazelnuts. I liked how it wasn’t as tooth-achingly sweet as the butterscotch budino we tried the last time, but considering how it’s really just a slab of ice cream with caramel sauce and hazelnuts, it’s expensive, no?

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Service-wise, this place is fairly OK as the staff are responsive and quick to take orders. I do, however, have the feeling that it’s not as good as when it first started. Maybe they aren’t able to retain good staff. Aside from that, though, there is this tendency for them to watch our plates like hawks and whip them off once empty, even if others at the table were still enjoying their food. Prevalent as the pratice is, I find that rather rude and offputting. I suppose they train their staff to do that to keep people moving. Doing that encourages people to finish quickly and get out, rather than lingering.

Considering how expensive this place is, I think it really takes away from the experience. I like the food, but I do not like the prices. I suppose one pays for the fresh produce and the privilege of dining at Marina Bay Sands.

Pizzeria Mozza
B1-42/46 Shoppes @ Marina Bay Sands
Tel: +65 6688 8868

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A Good Brunch at db

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We’re not sure how it happened, but one Sunday I found myself at Daniel Boulud’s swanky cafe at Marina Bay Sands with DC, Shinta, KK and Eeyore. We opted to share some starters and then proceeded to our own main courses. The first appetiser was the quail ballotine en croute ($22), basically a baked pate of quail and foie gras enclosed in a pastry shell. It was well executed and tasty. Maybe I’ve had too much airline food but this reminded me a lot of the stuff you get on the plane if you eat just the quail part. But with the foie gras centre, things are all good and yummy. I quite liked the pickles at the side, especially the bit of shiitake pickle – a refreshing change to the usual carrot and cucumber pickle.

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The spicy tuna tartare ($23) was good in that the ingredients were impeccably fresh and flavourful. The chef had a very light hand in the spices as it was hardly spicy to my palate, yet paradoxically heavy on the salt. Perhaps he was going for the cured salmon style while I was expecting more sashimi salad.

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The chop chop salad ($15) cost more with shrimp ($21). We counted 4 shrimp, making them $1.50 each, which isn’t too bad considering that they were, as is the standard at this restaurant, fresh. What I enjoyed throughout the meal was that every ingredient in each dish seemed to burst with freshness and was pretty much picked at its peak. I normally tolerate bits of wilted salad leaves here and there, sometimes even at the best places, but at db, it seemed like they did a proper freshness QC. Very good! Here, again, the salad was very tasty and fresh, though nothing inventive or mindblowing. $15 for a fresh salad with watermelon, sweet and juicy though they were, seems a bit steep to me.

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For mains, DC went for the piggie burger ($24) which had a beef patty topped with pulled pork. My tasting portion of beef patty was well seared on the outside and nicely juicy in the outside. I didn’t taste much pulled pork and think the patty is delicious enough to have on its own. Maybe I’ll go for this one next time.

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KK and Eeyore both had the original db burger ($35), which had braised short ribs in the middle of the meat patty and foie gras on top. I didn’t find my tasting portion very special and didn’t even notice much of the short ribs. One thing though was that the foie gras was tiny and I was very lucky that the piece KK cut for me had a tiny sliver that barely caught my attention had it not fallen onto my plate. But the fries at this place are da bomb. I think they’re probably the best fries I’ve had in recent memory. These are definitely twice fried, they’re super crisp on the outside and somehow slightly waxy and moist on the inside. I wouldn’t call it fluffy, but somehow the texture worked really well. The flavour was great too, and they salted the fries just so. I wonder if they put beef or goose fat in the oil to make it taste that good.

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Shinta had the barramundi grenobloise ($34), again an impeccably seasoned dish. My tasting portion of fish had a lovely crisp crust of skin that really added to the juicy fish. Excellent.

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Finally, my dish. I went for the grilled yellow fin tuna ($36), which I felt was the weakest link of the main courses. The tuna was of decent quality. I’m belabouring the point here, but the produce offered at this restaurant is faultless. However, the flavour of the tuna somehow didn’t sing and I felt that the corn fricasee was a tad too stodgy despite being lifted by the spicy, mustardy watercress. Plus, I could hardly taste the hedgehog mushrooms that I ordered the dish for (yes I put dishes with mushrooms at the top of my order list). While it was a decent rendition of tuna, it was sadly very forgettable.

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For dessert, we were stuffed and none of the other desserts appealed to us, so we went for the warm madeleines for the table to share ($8). Considering that the rest of the dishes were fairly pricey, we were expecting no more than one madeleine per person in that portion. We were very happily surprised that the madeleines came piping hot instead of warm and there were plenty to go round. Even Shinta, who was on a no-carb diet, dipped in and there were so many that no one fought over the last piece (a rarity in this crowd). I liked how each delicate little cake had almost crisp edges of darker golden brown that really added to the tender texture of the morsel. The subtle orange peel flavour added to the yummy ending to the meal.

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I like db Bistro Moderne and think it’s got good, fresh, well executed food and efficient, attentive service. Price-wise, it’s not cheap as we paid $66 per person for all the food above plus a glass of wine and a fruit punch (don’t order the fruit punch, it tastes just like the type you get at post-event buffets). However, I’d say it’s quite worthwhile, as opposed to truly value for money, as the produce really is fresh (there, I’ve said it yet again!). I’d return, though probably for a chi-chi splurge than for a regular work-night dinner. Oh yes, and I’d return for the fries!

db Bistro Moderne
B1-48 The Shoppes Marina Bay Sands
Tel: 6688 8525

A Whirlwind Work Trip: My First Michelin Star Experience

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We were very fortunate to be treated to a good dinner, my first Michelin star experience at the one-star Tano Passami L’Olio. The name literally meant “Tano, pass me the olive oil.” Chef Gaetano is very big on olive oils and treats it almost like wine in how he pairs each carefully, selecting carefully which oil he uses to finish each dish. We went for a tasting menu of sorts, starting with this amuse bouche.

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Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Wow! moment, more of a “hmm this is rather good.” It was interesting how the mousse was finished of with olive oil but I don’t remember a great deal more than that.

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The next dish was quite interesting – raw prawns Milanese-style marinated in citrus and anise, accompanied by pink grapefruit and cheese mousse and graced with caramelised peas. I wasn’t sure about the peas as they were semi-dry, with texture reminding me a bit of wasabi peas, just not as crunchy. I liked the fresh, fresh! prawns that were singing with the zing of the sea (go figure that out, I’m taking things up a notch – it’s a Michelin-starred place yo) and the grapefruit and cheese mousse was nice, though it tasted a bit like it was meant for baby food, but what lovely fine dining baby food it was!

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Now it was the next dish that really brought things up a notch. The caramelised quail eggs on tuna mousse was a revelation. The first one after going in the mouth went crackle! pop! and there were surprised looks all round the table. Then understanding dawned and we gleefully went with the second one. First, the sensation of caramel on the tongue, as it was an egg-shaped creme brulee with crackly crust all round. Just a little pressure with the teeth and tongue and the delicately cooked quail egg burst, coating the tongue with runny yolk. The tuna mousse made for a savoury counterpoint to it all. And the raw tuna in minted olive oil? Gilding the lily with its freshness.

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Our expectations went a little higher with the pasta course and we were not disappointed. We were presented with lemon risotto cooked in vegetable and milk and finished off with chocolate. I was a bit wary of this as I wasn’t sure how dessert-like a lemon and chocolate rice dish would taste. But no, this was deeply savoury, rich and wonderfully al dente. At the same time, the lemon flavour sang through and the bitterness of the chocolate balanced out the flavours. It was another eye-opener. Next time I’m in Milan, I’m coming back just for this dish.

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We were surprised by how full we were getting at this stage, we really hadn’t eaten a great deal, but it shows how satisfying the food was. We were very glad that the main course came in small portions. Small though the portion was, it was somehow the perfect portion. The roe dear saddle glazed with basil and wild berries and again finished off with chocolate was excellent. It was done very rare, the way I like it, yet wasn’t bloody (which the rest of my table seemed to like more). I think the meat must have been well hung because it was the tenderest deer I’ve had. Again, Chef Gaetano had a way with traditionally sweet foods, turning them into savoury wonders. The chocolate he personally grated over each portion at the table made all the difference again in balancing out the sweetness of the sauce and tempered the deep game flavour of the venison. Wonderful.

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What really won the rest of the table over (I was head over heels by then, no need for further wooing) was Chef Gaetano’s impeccable and very sensible wine pairings. He recommended two reds, only one of which I managed to get a photo of. This Humar Rogoves from the Friuli region was very reasonably priced at about €30 and was just right for the deer. In the words of the chef, it was a “sweety wine, very nice.” And indeed it was! Nicely balanced, sweet yet not overly so, it went better than expected with our deer in berry sauce.

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Then came the usual sorbet palate cleanser.

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And finally dessert. The almond cannoli filled with almond mousse, candy lemon, citrus cream and almond marmalade was lovely. The pastry was crisp and light as air and the mousse filling also light and sweetly lemony. It was a lovely contrast to the dark chocolate blob (I never found out what it really was), but the mousse and chocolate sauce was a deep, delicious contrast. It was a sly way of crowd pleasing, not particularly inventive but just the right to end a good dinner.

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Tano passami l’olio
via Villoresi, 16 ang. via Pastorelli, Milano, Italy
Tel: +39 02 8394139
Email: tano@tanopassamilolio.it

September in Komodo: Blue, Blue Oceans

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I flew to Flores from Bali, landing at Labuan Bajo, the staging point for Komodo. Komodo itself is a small island off Flores and is home to the famous Komodo dragon. I wasn’t here just to see the dragons, but also to experience the famed diving in the area. Diving here is challenging with the strong currents but very rewarding as it is very much an untouched area with an incredible amount of fish.

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Every dive I had was so blue and full of fish. There were trevally in great abundance and in greater abundance were the fusiliers and other smaller fish that made their prey.

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It was always a fish soup experience each dive.

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Famous here are the pelagics, otherwise known as big fish that swim in the blue, like the ominous looking giant trevally.

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They get pretty big, though not quite as big as a diver!

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It was almost shocking to me how often we saw Napolean wrasse. These are rare in other waters but seeing two or three in one dive was almost the norm here.

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They weren’t too shy and often swam round us in large circles, as if to mark out territory.

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Some of them were not yet in the terminal phase and had lighter markings on their smaller bodies. It was wonderful to see these majestic creatures cruise round us.

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Other creatures were more fearsome than majestic, like the dogtooth tuna. From afar they looked fine…

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… but up closer their rows of teeth and rather unfriendly expression made me think of how eagerly they would take revenge on me – all for my penchant for tuna sashimi.

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There were some slightly dangerous fish in the water. Here’s probably the most dangerous – the titan triggerfish. It’s been known to attack divers and to grave consequence. Thankfully it wasn’t nesting season when they tended to be very aggressive and territorial. This one just cruised past without taking any notice of us.

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Even though they have a reputation for being deadly, sharks are generally pretty harmless. There were lots of white tip sharks in the area. It is obvious how they got their name and it’s marvellous how the white tips are almost luminous in the water.

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These creatures were quite shy and it wasn’t easy to get a photo. It doesn’t help that they tend to be quite small, generally being about one to two metres long.

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Some of them came in right onto the reef but quickly shied away from the avid photographers.

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The closest we got was when there was a white tip shark hiding in a cave, oblivious to the fact that its tail was sticking out for all to admire.

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OChre: Flawed but Good Value

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DC’s father insisted that we try out OChre despite us wanting to dress down. We finally got round to getting me out of my usual casual garb (think T-shirt, three-quarter pants and slippers) and into a nice dress and heels. We were pleasantly surprised by this place as the food is pretty good and the prices pretty decent. The cooking is almost classic Italian, with a Japanese sensibility to it. No surprise from a Japanese chef trained in Italy. There’s a restrained elegance to the dishes done well, and a disconcerting feeling of blandness and not quite bringing out the ingredients’ full potential in those not so well executed.

We opted to share the antipasti and primi plati before having our own mains. The first appetiser of tomatoes and bufala was decent as the tomatoes were ripe and sweet and the bufala creamy and fresh. I wasn’t sure about the tomato jelly as it was basically solidified tomato soup that didn’t add much to the flavours and didn’t help to unify the dish. Decent but no a reorder.

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Next was the tonno vitello, slow poached veal topped with tuna sauce. Everyone else seemed to like it, but as it’s not my favourite dish, Ican’t quite comment on the execution. The only thing is thatI felt that it wasn’t a great deal different from the  more downmarket version at Riciotti. I liked how the veal was tender and didn’t like how the cooked tuna in the sauce made it all quite rough in texture.

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The last appetiser was the crowd pleaser: Hokkaido scallop carpaccio with parma ham. The scallop was impeccable, sweet and very slightly briny at the same time. The parma ham was passable, not great, and somehow didn’t quite go with the delicate scallop. Eaten separately, I think this works well, but not both ham and scallop in the same bite.

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I think the ravioli is where the chef really shone. I don’t remember much of the filling (was it kurobuta pork?), just that the little parcels were nicely al dente with chewy, salty filling, and oh the sauce! The sauce was a creamy mushroom sauce with ceps in them. I cannot tell you how much I love the soft texture and gently yet seductively woody flavour of ceps. Cooked into the amazingly creamy sauce, this really made my evening.

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The oyster and saffron risotto was a decent rendition, again not much different from a version at another restaurant, this time Prego’s. I liked the asparagus bits in it, but wasn’t too enamoured by how they couldn’t bring out the clean briny flavour of fresh oysters in this dish. While the oysters were definitely fresh, there was a hint of fishy that I can’t quite place or explain. Perhaps cooking the oysters slightly affected the delicacy of the risotto. Perhaps I also didn’t like that the rice was a bit too hard for my taste. Who knows.

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The chef’s specialty is the duck risotto. I thought it was quite different as it broke away from the mold of risottos being defined by the stock it’s cooked in. This time, I think the chef used water instead of stock and the rice had a very clean taste, quite akin to that of watery porridge made with Thai jasmine rice. Studded in the risotto were cubes of smoked duck, lending little taste explosions of gamey salt to the tongue. It was a good dish but again the rice was too hard. I prefer it cooked a tad more, probably 30 seconds more stirring in the pot and I’ll be a happy camper.

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On to the mains. DC and I shared a beef with foie gras and they portioned them out nicely onto two plates. The funny thing was that they didn’t ask how we wanted the beef done and protested that we should go with the chef’s preference of medium rare. We both like our steaks Bloody and vetoed that in favour of rare. It was almost comical how the waiter kept asking if we were sure. I liked the steak and accompanying vegetables very much, it was all very well executed and the natural flavour of the beef shone through. The foie gras I felt was superfluous and added nothing to the dish. I’ll give it (foie gras, not steak) all to DC next time.

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For dessert, DC and I shared a mille feuille, which we felt was the best dessert of the evening. (There was also panna cotta and creme brulee, which seemed slightly disappointing to the rest.) It was puff pastry with pistachio semi freddofilling. The semifreddo was excellent, being smooth, creamy and full of toasted pistachios. The pastry was a bit too difficult to handle: while crisp, it was a bit too hard and impossible to cut out to eat with the semifreddo filling. Nonetheless, taking a bit of pastry and a bite of semifreddo, this was a great dessert.

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A few last words on the service: fairly attentive though a bit lacking in the common sense department. One chose to make slightly disparaging comments of the very old Burgundy that DC’s father brought for dinner, not realising that though it wasn’t a Bordeaux (hey Bordeaux doesn’t automatically make a wine good!) it was a good vintage from a respectable vineyard. Later when asked our opinion on the food, one of them rather snippily said that the risotto was done that way in Italy. That certainly wasn’t the case in my recent trip to Italy (more on that later, oh my, one Michelin star heaven!) where risotto was done al dente rather than just off the verge of crunchy. Last, they didn’t do anything to clear away the bread basket that was obviously in the way, just says that the attentiveness is a bit of a show.

OChre’s definitely flawed, but the food has lots of promise, just having one or two things in each dish that if tweaked, would take it right up there in the good food stakes.

OChre
181 Orchard Road
#11-03/04 Orchard Central
Tel: 6634 0423

Sake-To-Me Indulgence

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It was Mfluder’s birthday and the inimitable Tricia, together with Mr and Mrs Sailorboy, put together an amazing dinner at then-new Kiraku. (Sorry Mfluder for posting this late, happy birthday plus 8 weeks!) Almost 20 of us took up the centre of the restaurant (not enough space in the private room) for Mfluder’s Sake-To-Me Night of Indulgence and made enough noise for 40! Mrs Sailorboy arranged for a special menu and the restaurant graciously gave us, among other things,  little bites to start the meal. The first little bite was fish liver. It tasted like rather fishy foie gras, not too bad but I probably wouldn’t want more than the few morsels in the bowl.

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Then they probably ran out of fish liver because the rest of the late ones streaming in got this rather nice unagi starter. Boy were Hypodermically and I pleased that we got there early as we got two types of nice bites!

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Because Hypodermically and I couldn’t wait for the rest to arrive so dinner proper could start, we ordered a very competent sashimi salad that was very fresh and left us hankering for more.

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The first dish was the star of the entire dinner: oyster chawanmushi like nothing we’d tasted before. This truly brought chawanmushi to a new level. The uber-soft egg custard lay under half an inch of clear broth. Taking an exploratory spoonful of the broth, I tasted dashi broth and ginger. Dipping my spoon gently into the custard, I got ready for the egg part. And the silky yielding custard was an epiphany of oyster. I don’t know how they got it so soft and how they got the oyster bits just cooked without tasting at all fishy, but this is top of my list in chawanmushi. It’s the best one I’ve had. Ever.

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Next came assorted sashimi, which was fresh, though not astoundingly fresh like on lucky days when you intercept the shipment straight from Japan. I liked it even more when Hypodermically agreed to swap her maguro for my salmon. The sweet prawn was quite nice…

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… but even nicer was Mrs Sailorboy making sure that everyone surrendered their prawn heads for frying. Now these deep-fried prawn heads made for an ideal snack to go along with sake…

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… which by now everyone was downing. The owner gave us what seemed like a free flow of very good, very smooth sake that kept coming. I don’t remember very much what it tasted like because DC didn’t let me take more than a few sips. Before you think he was being evil (though he normally is, heheh), he didn’t want me to repeat a Smokin’ Frogz. We also shared a small bottle of very lovely (even better than the free flow stuff!) sake between the four or five of us in the vicinity.

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Next up was the tempura, nice and crisp. Good standard, though not particularly special.

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But the sushi was very good. Somehow the rice was done perfect: balanced perfectly on the edge of hard and flavoured with just the right amount of vinegar. The three here beat my Singapore gold standard of Isetan supermarket sushi (go try it for yourself before you scoff). Excellent.

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Emboldened by the excellent sushi, we rather paradoxically ordered more sashimi. The otoro was amazing. Having not been to Tsukiji market, I obviously don’t know what otoro is supposed to be like, but this one was another epiphany. Even DC was uncharacteristically uncharitable: we had to split the last piece. Being on the more despotic side of the relationship, I obviously got the slightly bigger and therefore better half.

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It was a pity that my favourite ikura gunkan didn’t fare as well. Here, they soak the salmon roe in sake which gives it a rather interesting alcoholic edge. I prefer it done the normal way where you can really taste the fish oil. It didn’t help that the sacs were quite thick, so the ikura wasn’t as bursty as I like.

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Everyone else oohed and aahed and loved the oyster sashimi. It was so big that it had to be served cut into little bits. I felt that it was a competent and fresh enough oyster. However, it just doesn’t beat oysters in the half-shell that still taste of the sea. This one somehow didn’t. It felt more like it belonged in a (very) high-class or luak.

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The savoury courses finally came to an end with sukiyaki and shabu shabu.

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True to form, ours wasn’t any old sukiyaki or shabu shabu. It came with wagyu beef…

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… and kurobuta pork.

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No pictures of the cooked product because we were busy squabbling and fighting over who was hogging (pun intended) the beef and the pork. All’s fair in love, war and eating. Amen.

Now the last course was something off-menu. Even the owner only tasted it the night before when the chef had finished the cake. It was a lovely strawberry cheesecake, very rich and homey tasting. It was unanimous, everyone wanted it to be put on the menu.

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Kiraku
55 Market Street
#B1-01
Tel: 6438 6428

Spruce: A Birthday Dinner

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The DC’s birthday was long overdue so I booked a table at Spruce so that we could try their famed ahi tuna starter and their supposedly famous burgers. The ahi tuna certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a western twist to negitoro: chopped tuna sashimi was seasoned and dressed with olive oil for unctuousness and sprinkled with chives, then eaten with some of the best baguette I’ve had in a while. Creamy avocado slices on the side lifted it to sublime. I’d go back there again just for that one dish.

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The problem with having the best dish first is that the rest of dinner, though competent, was a bit of a letdown. I liked the squid salad with rocket and roast lemon. I hate to complain about such a minor detail like fiddliness, but it was a bit of a mess trying to get to get the lemon juiced. It was a nice touch though, and enhanced the herby sharp rocket very well. The squid wasn’t too bad, but I’d prefer it a bit more charred so I can taste the smokiness.

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The burger wasn’t too bad either. The staff noted that we were sharing and were nice enough to instruct the kitchen to divide it up and skewer each half carefully. DC liked the tender patty, it was quite juicy and tasty, with good beefy flavour. I liked the chips: soft and fluffy on the inside and nicely crisp outside.

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The meal went downhill after that. There was a side of what were supposedly grilled mushrooms drowned in a lacklustre and vaguely vinegary (wine?) sauce, then a ginger steamed sponge. I don’t know why the presentation was so bad because the ice cream was half melted by the time it got to us (see the picture). Presentation aside, the cake itself was decent, though nothing to shout about.

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Service-wise, this place had great intentions. It was sweet of them to bring out a ginormous piece of chocolate cake for DC. The waitress came out with the candle ablaze and singing the birthday song. It was a pity that this was only after I’d asked for the bill and was preparing to go. Nevertheless, it was a nice touch. I’ll definitely be back for the ahi tuna and perhaps for other starters, but I’ll give the sides a miss.

Spruce
320 Tanglin Road
Phoenix Park
Tel: 6836 5528