28 December 2013

Ah Loy Thai

I have to start by disclaiming that this is not a story about authentic Thai food. This is another story of how I found a gem by following the long queue. Ah Loy Thai located at the basement of Tampines Mall always had a long queue every time I passed by. Like always. Being the typical Singaporean, I made the assumption that the long queue means good food. I am a good follower.

The unassuming hole-in-the-wall that contains the gems.

The pineapple fried rice ($7, below) had a wok hei taste, and the pineapples, prawns and raisins were a great infusion to entice the tastebuds. The eggs were to die-for. Although it tasted more like Chinese Zhi Char fried rice, it made me wanted to go Bangkok immediately. 4.5/5

The Tom Yam seafood soup ($7.50, below) was really spicy. One sip and it set my tongue and belly to flames even faster than I could say "sa-wa-dee-kha". And I think they must have been best friends with their supplier because there were a lot of fresh ingredients: prawns, mushroom, lemongrass and chock-ful of squids. It was like a bottomless pot of ingredients. The soup brought out the essence of the ingredients and the spiciness was well balanced by the sourness. 4.5/5

Loved the Phad Thai ($7, below) which was well done : not too oily and had a wok hei taste to it too. Umani packed thin flat noodles were flavorful and delivered the punch. Again, generous amount of eggs, prawns and beanspouts. This is like my perfect Phad Thai. 5/5

And before we thought the meal would not get any better, the butter calamari ($8, below) arrived. Hail the butter calamari! Every bite was a burst of sweet and savory. Although it's sinful, it's addictive and tasty. 5/5

Meat is very important in a meal so we ordered the pandan chicken ($10, below). Hmmm the chicken was a little tough (frozen meat?). Would give this a miss if we had known. 3/5

Although the food was more like Chinese Zhi Char rather than Thai Thai in my opinion, it's really irresistible and tasty and had us swooning. These were really simple, nothing over the top dishes but that's all it takes to make us contented. And also make us work harder at the gym thereafter. And all these for only $13 per pax which is value for money! There is no service charge or Gst. It would have cost more if we went to other Thai restaurants. There is another outlet at Bugis Shaw towers but I haven't tried it before. Despite the long queues during meal times, this is stuff that I would not regret queuing for. Ok I need to wipe off the drool on my keyboard now.

1 December 2013

Oyster Bar and Grill Wharf

My Halloween themed post. Erm yes, I'm late for the party. 

Anyway, this trip to Oyster Bar and Grill Wharf took place close to Halloween last month. Looked like they put their thinking caps on and were on the beam.

Did I mention they have 100 flavors of mojito? Wicked.

For the non-drunkards, there is the non-alcoholic version of mojito. I have only one liver so I am not going to try all 100 flavors. However, I thought the watermelon mojito ($15.80, below left) and the non-alcoholic peach mojito ($10.80, below right) were refreshing, bittersweet and sufficient to set the stage for the night. Now I'm thirsty. 4.25/5

Being seated at the bar meant an exclusive ticket to spy at the chefs preparing the food. However, we were too engrossed in our bitch session (hey it's Friday!) to care about what was happening in the kitchen. 

If there was only one thing we came for, it would be the oysters. After all, this is named Oyster bar. I am no expert in the field of oysters. From the poster on the wall, it seemed like Wharf got its oysters from Australia and US. The fried oysters ($9 for 2, $16 for 4) were a basic introduction. Succulent oyster meat hid within the breaded crumbs and above the slightly salty savory sauce. 4/5

Ajillo- a Spanish dish that's garlic and olive oil infused. The menu has a variety of Ajillos - prawn, sausages, oysters. We got the Scallops and Mushroom ($12.50, below) which arrived on our table sizzling and bobbling hot. The drenched scallops in the salty broth were bouncy, and fresh. Scallops are my thing and I am usually in charge of finishing them. I am not a big fan of mushrooms honestly and I had left the honor of settling them to my dining companion. However no complaints were lodged against the mushrooms. Overall, a dish slightly above average in my opinion. 3.75/5

Since we were seated at the bar, some bar food would be appropriate. The truffle cheese fries ($14, below) set the bar high in my food diary for truffle fries. I liked how it wasn't overpowering with the typical pungent smell of truffles, and also the lightness of the cheese flakes that decorated the fries. 4/5

We were surprised that our chicken wings ($14, below) arrived faster than the indicated cooking time in the menu of 20 minutes. These were sumptuous and addictive, but a tad too expensive for standard fare. 3.75/5

I was impressed by the efficiency of the kitchen and wait staff. Food was served rather quickly and the dirty dishes were cleared promptly, as if there was some hidden sensor in the dish that sent a signal to the waiter when the dish was empty. I like the chill vibes of this place and would not mind returning again to try more of its famous oysters.

60 Robertson Quay
#01-01 Singapore 238252

26 November 2013

The Royal Mail

With a name synonymous with the Britain postal service, it is natural to associate The Royal Mail with prestige, elegance, and hmm expensive. Thankfully, there was the bi-annually Restaurant Week which allows peasants like me to be able to feast like a royal without having to sell my farm. The Restaurant Week sees participating restaurants rolling out 3 course lunches and dinners starting at $25 and $35 respectively.

The Royal Mail restaurant is located in the CBD in Ascott Raffles Place hotel. Decor wise, I like its sleek and classic setting which oozes a contemporary touch. The tables were set pretty far apart which makes it conducive for an intimate dinner date or a confidential business lunch. 

The Restaurant Week menu was a mystery menu which means we did not know what we were in for at the time of reservation. So it was a gamble of whether a dirty old boot or a big fat fish ends up on our fishing rod. Honestly, I wasn't flattered by the menu on the actual day. The only thing which I was looking forward to were the desserts.

The bread served was an excellent starter. It was warm, fluffy and quite an appetizer on its own. Too bad the saying that "a good start means half a battle is won" was not applicable in this case because things went kind of down hill from here. My choice of appetizer, the Green Pea Soup with Semi-dried Tomato and Prawn, was bland and the prawn could not revived the dish. My friend had the Sous-vide Duck Breast which was glazed with balsamic and cranberry sauce, and came with mango and potato crisps. I hate balsamic so this dish was also no love for me. For me, it tasted like some pungent chemical mixture. Overall: 3/5

The Sous-vide mozzarella stuffed chicken breast (below) sounded delicious so we went with it. The thin layer of roasted skin was just enough to add flavor and moisture to the dry and somewhat hard chicken meat. We wondered whether the mozzarella evaporated during roasting as we barely could find it. However we were a bit surprised to bite into pepper seeds since we didn't recall it being a listed ingredient. And there were plenty of them and it was quite an annoyance to pick them out. That just killed the dish for me. 3/5

From such a place we would expect great desserts. The red velvet cake with cheese frosting and strawberry sorbet (below) redeemed the ticket price. Combining the light velvet sponge with the cold and smooth sorbet - perfect for the sweet tooth. 3.75/5

We were full of anticipation of the Trio of dessert, supposed to consist of passionfruit creme brûlée, raspberry financier cake and lychee sorbet. It was the only item on the menu that was made up of my favorite ingredients. However, the trio that greeted us was different from the menu. Turned out that the menu was not printed correctly after a long investigation by the waiter with the kitchen. It was actually the apple mouse with caramel drizzle, raspberry financier and red velvet cake (left to right). I quite fancy the raspberry financier. 3.5/5

And one more thing, we were kind of upset with the service staff who only offered us sparkling or still water instead of telling us upfront there was tap water provided. We overhead another customer who just cut to the chase and requested tap water instead of obliging to the waiter's offer of sparkling or still. So we spent $7 on still water. It was probably the most heart-breaking water I've ever drank. Sorry I'm such a cheapskate.

In all fairness, I must agree that at $25 per pax, it appeared to be a good deal for the amount of food for a three course meal during Restaurant week. Though I didn't think the food was great. Maybe it was the high expectation we had at the onset that let us down. Maybe it was the mystery menu that had quite a few items that we didn't fancy.
  But if there was another Restaurant week, I would recommend you to try other establishments for a better chance at other restaurants, or at least one with menu available.

No 2 Finlayson Green
Singapore 049247

16 November 2013

Blanco Court Prawn Mee

Have you ever eaten a bowl of perfect prawn mee?

I found the perfect prawn mee at Blanco Court Prawn Mee. However, its elusive opening hours from 7.15am to 4pm meant that it could only be a weekend affair for me. You see, for me, waking up early to drop by Blanco Court for a prawn mee breakfast before work on a weekday would be more difficult than solving a PSLE Maths question.

Choose from a hearty bowl of jumbo prawn noodles ($8/$10) which had bigger tiger prawns, or the smaller prawns (with or without ribs) version that cost half the price ($4.50/$5.50). For those who are repulsive towards peeling the prawns with bare hands, Blanco Court is considerate enough to half the prawns so that it is easier to extract that fresh sweet meat from the shell. Without using the hands of course.

We could not stop hankering for the broth, the most important component of any prawn soup. The broth packed a robust punch with bursting umami-packed flavors and the briny sweetness of the crustaceans. The fried shallots in the soup were infused to entice the taste buds. The best part? Free refills.

Somehow, it has become a non-obligatory yet mandatory thing to order some Ngoh hiang from the neighboring stall. Can't help it because the deep fried Ngoh Hiang was a savory and addictive appetizer to the prawn mee feast. The prawn crackers and fritters didn't leave much impression though.

So, do you have a perfect prawn mee soup in mind other than Blanco Court? Do share with me!

243 Beach Road
Singapore 189754

11 November 2013

Penny University

Penny University is the Eastie's best kept secret. The only problem is that everyone and their grandma knows about it. I have been wanting to go there for the longest time, to see for myself if the online raves were justified.

Throng of early-risers on a Saturday morning, seriously?

I got a little cute mango cupcake ($4). Quite expensive for this size. Luckily it tasted good. In fact, it was one of the better cupcakes I've had. Sweet mango jam filled the core of the fluffy and moist pastry. Vanilla cream atop the cupcake and decorated with stripes of mango jam. I like how it wasn't overly sweet and how light it was. A simple cupcake yet it was satisfying. 4/5

I am no coffee expert but the iced mocha ($6.50) that I ordered tasted excellent in my opinion. The mocha was smooth and balanced. Talk about that perfect ratio between the bitterness of the coffee beans and the sweetness of the chocolate. Makes me wanna shout, "Penny University, you've got a very good barista!" 4.5/5

Judging from the hype over it on the net, I could see why the Marmite toast with poached eggs and cheese ($4.50) was a crowd pleaser. The toast was spread with marmite and cheese, making it very salty and savory. Looked at that poached egg! Doesn't it look heavily pregnant? Golden orange runny egg yolk flows out when the knife cuts through it. Only one word could describe when I soak the toasted bread in the egg yolk and the melted cheese - Blissful! The accompany refreshing greens gave a healthy side to the dish. Although the portion looks little, it was sufficient enough for my brunch. 4.5/5

While I adore the rustic wooden theme - wooden chairs & tables, wooden cupboard, I wished the ambience was quieter. In fact, it was too noisy until I couldn't make out the music playing in the background. A planned morning of solitude was shortened by the incoming flux of customers queuing up which made me feel too guilty to linger around any longer. 

However, I observed that the queue at 10 or 11am was much shorter. Hence try to come at those times else you might have to join the insane queue which was trying to get in at 12pm. 

In conclusion, a lovely cafe that's worth every penny (pun intended) except it was too overcrowded. 

Warning: They only accept cash and NETS.

402 East Coast Road Singapore 428997
Opening hours:
Tues to Thurs 8:30am - 6:00pm
Fri and Sat 8:30am - 12:00am
Sun 8:30am - 9.00pm
Closed on Mon

10 November 2013

NOX Dine in the Dark

When I first heard that Nox Dine in the Dark was launched in Singapore, I wanted to try it immediately but the cost of $78 per pax threw me off the chair. Recently, I had the luck to save some buck to dine at Nox after I won an Openrice contest for two! My lucky friend and I were joined by an Openrice editor, Yiwen, for dinner. Yiwen has a really cool blog here and she blogs on food too.

In a gist, the concept is dine in the dark. The menu is unknown to us. The server asked if we had any dietary restrictions or allergies. After the dinner has ended, we were brought back to a lit room where we make a guess on what we have eaten. The menu was then revealed to us. That’s when bragging rights belong to the most acute taste buds #ChallengeAccepted

Before our dinner and while waiting for our guide, we were served the Amuse-Bouche - salmon cod fish with roe (below). This is the only food picture I have as the rest of my dinner was held in the dark. 

For the Instagram addicts, I am sorry but you have to try to curb your Instagram withdrawal symptoms for this dinner. 

Patrons are welcomed to enjoy a drink at the bar before dinner too. You can also order your drinks for dinner too.

We had to keep bags and handphones in the lockers below.

It was a while before we were informed that our guide Halimi is ready. I was absolutely thrilled! The feeling was just like the moment before I boarded on an aeroplane for the first time. I knew it was going to be an adventure and finally the moment has arrived. 

This is the door that will lead us into the unknown.

After climbing up a flight of stairs which was surprisingly quite an easy feat despite that we can't see, we reached the dining room on the second floor. We reached our table in a few steps and Halimi guided us to our chairs. 

At this moment, it looked like this:

Welcome to the dark side.
A total pitch-black. The darkest of the black. We thought we would slowly be accustomed and regained some sight but no, we did not. There was some small red dim lights near the top corner but they were just the infra-red cameras which footage would be retrieved only during "incidents". Hence, please ensure no naughty business.

We ordered a glass bottle of still water. The challenge was to make sure the table (and the floor) was not wet after the dinner. Nevertheless it was less stressful when we sensed that the cups were made of plastic instead of glass. 

Dinner was a 3 course prix fixe menu - Appetizer, Main Course, Dessert. Each course had 4 smaller different bowls of food, which were placed on a tray. 

It's bizarre how our other senses (hear, taste, touch, smell) were heightened when we can't see.  I thought my taste buds were more sensitive in the dark as everything I ate tasted very strong. For example, saltier, sweeter, more sour. I could also smell my food before it came, especially the truffles.

And it’s a rare occasion where you aren’t distracted by Whatsapp or busy catching up on Candy Crush. I can’t remember when the last time I gave full attention to my dining companions. And girls, this is also probably the only restaurant which your BFs can't look at other girls.

We weren't sure how Halimi was going to know when we had finished eating. I joked, "Maybe let's just raise our hands." OK I know that's lame and I was quite sure my friend rolled her eyes even though I can't see that. We waited quite some time after our last desserts before Halimi returned.

In the same pattern, we took the stairs down to return to the bar area. Going down was more challenging than coming up. Our eyes had a bit of adjustment to the light. We then filled up a questionnaire on what we think was the food we ate. When the server revealed the menu and photos of the food that we ate, we were really caught by surprise by some of the ingredients. We couldn't take pictures of the menu/photos as the restaurant only changes the menu every four weeks and it won't be fun for the rest if we revealed.

The bar area where we were given the survey
Be prepared to pay top dollar (S$78++ without drinks), but be rest assured that you will be served high quality food. The ingredients are worthy of the price you will be paying. There is so much emphasis on food presentation nowadays and sometimes I am guilty of letting it confuse the taste buds. This is a chance where you can focus on just the taste. I must highlight that the food served was enjoyable and I loved all of them, except for one of the main courses which was due to a personal preference.

Not to mention that the service you will get is top-notch. Our guide Halimi is not just a waiter, but an inspiring character. He was formerly a Singapore Airlines crew member but had to undergo an operation to remove his brain tumour. Although he became visually-impaired after the operation, he was never despaired and continued to live life to the fullest and continue to do what he loves - customer service. To many, he might be physically handicapped but actually I think he is no less handicapped in terms of his personality.

Overall, if I could only describe my experience in five words, that would be: "eye-opening", once-in-a-lifetime, amazing, unique, touched. In fact, I am thinking of going back there again after the menu changes.

Some tips :
1) Use the toilet before the adventure as it would be difficult if you need to use the toilet in the middle of the dinner. Don't worry, the toilets are lit.
2) Wear clothes with pockets so that you can keep the locker key. That’s because we also had to keep our bags, mobile phones, cameras, and anything that can gives off light in the lockers.
3) Wear dark coloured clothes to prevent food stains.. you'll never know!
4) Wear flats/low heels as you would need to climb the stairs to the dining area on 2nd floor.

Address: 269 Beach Road, Singapore 199546
Opening hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 6PM to late

Make your reservation now at: http://www.noxdineinthedark.com/reservations/

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