23.8.17

Coriander Leaf, Chijmes

I've resisted going to Coriander Leaf for a long time now, and if you're a regular reader, you'd know why.

For the uninitiated, I absolutely detest coriander leaves. I hate hate hate it. So notwithstanding the illustrious accolades, or the restaurant being a stalwart of the mod-Sin movement that I love, I have not felt any compulsion to dine there.

Until the other day when we couldn't get a table at El Mero Mero, and saw that Coriander Leaf was just above the cantina. And so, we hopped upstairs and into the restaurant; we figured there would be at least a couple of edible dishes we could ask to hold off the parsley/coriander leaves/cilantro.

It's the biggest irony of the year: me loving the food at a restaurant named 'Coriander Leaf'. Who'd have thought, right?? But WOWZA, Coriander Leaf was truly outstanding. Absolutely incredible. Every dish was finessed with aplomb and flavours were fused harmoniously. Service was stellar as well; we were seated at the chef's table, so in addition to having front-of-house seats to the theatrics of the open kitchen, we were engaged by the affable chefs who somehow juggled conversation through the frenzy of the kitchen.

The Salt & Pepper Squid ($14) was one hell of an addictive nibbler. Like Pringles, you can't stop at one. The batter was thin and crisp, the squid was springy yet soft to the bite, and the seasoning was sprinkled evenly.

The Soft Shelled Crab ($18), deep fried to a delectable crunch, was slathered in a creamy salted duck egg sauce that's all the rage now, and speckled with batter bits for added texture and fried curry leaves for a subtle heat.

The Steamed Seabass Fillet ($24) was technically flawless: the fish was luscious and plump, bathed in an exquisite broth spiked with chilli padi slivers, lime, palm sugar, charred onions, and a spicy relish. This was surprisingly piquant, almost sour, and I would have preferred a more savoury tilt to this. The Hubs slurped every last drop up anyway.

Samia's Signature, the tongue-numbingly spicy Frontier Chicken ($20) was flush with chilli paste and coriander seeds, and lifted with refreshing notes of peppery arugula, lemon and yoghurt cream. This was painfully delicious, I was sniffling through this, watery eyes, runny nose and all. The chilli padi-eating Hubs loved this, and because I'm a little masochistic, I loved it too.

A seasonal special, the Sambal Udang Nanas ($18) of fat succulent tiger prawns fried in a pineapple sambal, was fantastic. Bold, punchy, robust.

The wonderfully fluffy Plain Naan ($3) boasted heady smoky notes of the tandoor.


Coriander Leaf Restaurant
#02-01 Chijmes
30 Victoria Street
Tel: 6837 0142
Open weekdays from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 6pm to 11pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays
Website: corianderleaf.com

22.8.17

Shabestan

Persian cuisine is not often found this part of the world. We have the occasional 'Middle Eastern' restaurant, encompassing food from all of the Middle East, which is a bit like having Singaporean and Thai food lumped under the umbrella of 'Asian restaurant', but I digress. So anyways, country-specific cuisine like Persian fare, nada, I don't recall ever having Persian food on our shores.

It was Jaleesoo who recommended Shabestan, which is a little bit like Arabian Nights come to life. It's a lot kitsch, and its ambience by the riverside at Robertson Quay was plenty fine, but unfortunately, the lovely setting didn't translate to excellent food. In this regard, Kazbar remains my favourite spot for Middle Eastern cuisine.

I first had hummus at a girlfriend's home, who set the standard of hummus ridiculously high, coz, boy does she make amazing hummus. This Hummus ($10) a blend of garbanzo beans, tahini, olive oil and lightened with lemon juice, didn't come close. The consistency was thin and the olive oil insipid, so much so the wonderfully toasty Iranian bread couldn't save the absymal hummus.

We also ordered a medley of grilled meats, the Shandiz ($48) lamb on the bone, Gulf Prawn Kebab ($39), Fish Kebab ($37), and Chicken Shish Kebab ($36) all marinated in saffron and lime juice, and served with saffron & dill basmati rice. The meats were a half-and-half, ranging from the pedestrian to the inedible. The gulf prawns were fresh and sweet, the lamb fresh and luscious, and the chicken was succulent and flavoursome. That said, the spice rubs could have been more punchy, they were lacking in that special something, that oomph that would have made it pop. The fish was terribly fishy, which the heady spice mix failed to mask. Suffice it to say, we didn't finish the fish.

The Baghlava ($10), layered filo pastry chunky with chopped nuts, honey and rose water, was aromatic but a little dry.

The Persian Saffron Ice-Cream ($8) dotted with crushed pistachio and pomegranate seeds, was a much better dessert option. Nuanced and refreshing.


Shabestan
80 Mohamed Sultan Road #01-13
The Pier at Robertson
Tel: 6836 1270
Open daily from 12noon to 11.30pm
Website: www.shabestan.sg

21.8.17

Balestier Market

Balestier Market was pretty much a ghost-town, until the Longhouse and Lavender Food Centres were demolished. The more notable hawkers from the latter two food centres went on to set up shop in the intrepid little market, and now, it's a thriving hawker centre with a modest number of hawker gems. It's predominantly a dinner-time hawker centre, with many of the stalls open till late at night, so be sure to pop by at the right time.

I've listed my favourite stalls in descending order.

Braised Duck Rice

The Braised Duck Rice ($4) from Soon Kee is perhaps the most famous hawker in Balestier Market. The duck is tender and fresh, with nary a whiff of game, the rice is flavoursome, and the gravy is rich but well-balanced. The punchy chilli pulls it all together, with a piquant but spicy kick.

The Duck Noodle Soup ($3.50), supplemented with an egg ($0.50), was redolent of stewed duck bones in the robust broth, grounded with just a hint of herbal accents. A more than decent bowl of duck noodles, but the Ang Mo Kio one still trumps this.

The stall facade for reference.

Longhouse (Soo Kee) Boneless Duck Rice
#01-14
Tel: 8337 9862 / 9488 0455
Open Thursdays to Tuesdays from 11am to 8pm; Closed on Wednesdays

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Chicken Rice

Chicken rice is ubiquitous to just about every single hawker centre; I don't think any self-respecting hawker centre would be lacking in at least one chicken rice stall. The Chicken Rice ($3.80) at Balestier Market purports to hail from a "reputable name". I'm not entirely sure if it's the original Bugis St Chuen Chuen stall, but the chicken was pretty good. Smooth silky meat, and well-flavoured luscious rice.

But what stole the show was the Chicken Macaroni Soup ($3.80), a dish not frequently found in many hawker centres anymore. This was scrumptious, in part due to that peanutty chicken stock base. Simplicity at its finest, and a must-try here.

The stall facade for reference.

Bugis Street Chuen Chuen Chicken Rice
#01-12
Open daily from 9am to 9pm

==============================================================

Wanton Noodles

The old-school Wanton Noodles ($4) has a delightful traditional taste about it. It wasn't mind-blowing or anything like that, but it was a solid plate of well-executed parts: springy noodles, soft barbecued pork slivers, crunchy poached greens, and a thin tasty sauce slicked through. The wanton skins were a little floury and thick, but the mince filling was yummy.

The Fried Wantons ($4) passed muster, and made for quite an addictive nibbler.

The stall facade for reference.

Bugis Street Chuen Chuen Wanton Noodle
#01-11
Open daily from 9am to 9pm

==============================================================

Barbecued Seafood

This stall has moved several times. It first became famous at the old Jackson Market, then moved to Lavender Food Centre when Jackson Market got torn down. It's now at its third location at Balestier Market, and I think, the multiple moves has adversely affected its business. I remember the stall doing a roaring business in Jackson, and then pulling in a decent crowd at Lavender, but it's now a quiet pipsqueak of a stall. It's odd though, because the barbecued seafood is pretty good. The Sambal Sotong ($10), wonderfully springy and fresh, was burnished with a potent mix of the fiery and sweet, doused only by a drizzling of the lime.

The Sambal Stingray ($15) was meaty and flaky, slathered in a thick paste of sambal which highlighted the smoky notes of the grilling.

The store facade for reference.

Macpherson Barbecue Seafood (Jackson Market)
#01-04

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Prawn Noodles

I never really got the fuss about this Prawn Noodle Soup ($5). Not when it was at Longhouse, and not here now at Balestier Market. Sure, the prawns are plentiful and fresh, but the soup stock was generic in its sweetness. I would have liked a meaty heft to counter the sweetness of the prawns in the soup stock.

The stall facade for reference.

Ah Hui Big Prawn Noodle (Longhouse)
#01-13
Open daily from 9am to 10.30pm

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Dessert

I find myself ordering Cheng Tng ($1.60) whenever I'm in a hawker centre. Its "cooling" properties are a refreshing counter to the stifling heat of the Singapore alfresco. This was alright but forgettable, a little saccharine for my liking.

The Tau Suan ($1.80) was a dud, its flat taste was one-dimensional, and gloppy texture uninspiring.

The stall facade for reference.

Dessert
#01-01

==============================================================

Balestier Market
411 Balestier Road

12.8.17

Chicken Scarpariello

Chicken Scarpariello is an Italian-American chicken stew, punched up with red peppers, cherry peppers, and spicy Italian sausage for a subtle heat. Chicken stock and a dry white wine form the base of the soup, while fresh thyme lends flavour.


Ingredients:
8 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
1 medium yellow onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 roasted peppers, cut roughly (I used a mix of red and yellow peppers for colour)
4 tbsp cherry peppers (you can get this from Marketplace or any gourmet grocer)
4 links spicy Italian sausage, cut to 1" cubes (I prefer the chunky Johnsonville ones from the frozen section at Meidi-Ya or Cold Storage Great World City)
3 cups white wine
3 cups chicken stock
10 stalks fresh thyme, tied together with butcher's twine
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt


Directions:
1) Brown chicken in olive oil (you can use less oil if using a non-stick pan, as the chicken releases fat on its own anyway), about 3 minutes on high heat each side, salting liberally, and taking care not to overcrowd the pan.

2) Set aside in stew pot.

3) Using 2 tbsp of the chicken fat-infused olive oil, fry onions in pan, until translucent, about 3 minutes on medium-high heat.

4) Lower fire to medium heat, and add garlic (garlic burns easily so a lower fire prevents the garlic from being burnt), fry about 1 minute.

5) Add white wine, reduce by half.

6) Transfer to stew pot with chicken, and add red peppers, cherry peppers, and thyme bundle.

7) Add chicken stock, bring to a boil and lower to a simmer for about 40 minutes or until fall-off-the-bone.

8) Fry sausage separately, and add that to the stew just before serving.


Gemmills

Gemmills is also owned by the people behind the fabulous Maggie Joans and delightful Moosehead. A distinctively different concept from its Mediterranean sister restaurants, Gemmills is casual and intimate, a cafe in the day-time which morphs into a bar come dusk. Styled like an old-school kopitiam replete with desks re-purposed from singer brand sewing machines and hardy stone coffee tables, the cool, darkened cafe-bar is a respite from the blazing heat outdoors. The grub served is classic cafe fare, a decidedly limited menu of sandwiches, salads, and simple pastas. Service can be a little slow, but it's understandably so; there's just the one waitress the entire lunch service.

The Prosciutto & Buffalo Mozzarella Panini ($15) was a commendable sandwich, wonderfully burnished with fragrant pesto and layered with juicy tomatoes.

The Chicken, Cauliflower & Quinoa Salad ($16) was excellent, the dukkah spice rub enlivening the roasted chicken and cauliflower, and lending to a smoky aroma. Blobs of sour cream and pomegranate seeds provided a refreshing counter to the char and mild heat of the green chilli.

Despite being tainted by the parsley garnish, the Rigatoni & Beef Ragu ($18) was hearty, rustic and sumptuous.

The Vanilla Ice-Cream & Caramel Sauce ($7) was given crunch by chocolate cookie bits. Simple but delicious.


Gemmills
110 Amoy Street
Tel: 6221 5564
Open weekdays from 8am to 12midnight;
Saturdays from 6pm to 12midnight;
Closed on Sundays

11.8.17

Gu Ma Jia Private Kitchen

I was complaining to a chum about the recent spate of blah meals when I was directed to Gu Ma Jia; it's where his extended family, all live-to-eat type of foodies, gather for big Sunday dinners. TBH, I'd never have known about this place, tucked away at Tai Thong Crescent, if he didn't tell me about it. For that matter, I didn't even know where Tai Thong was. heh.

Notwithstanding how ulu I'd thought Tai Thong was (it really isn't; it's easily accessible off the CTE-PIE), or how the Hubs, the half-Korean half-Peranakan, full-ACS boy, keeps mangling up the restaurant's Chinese name, we made our way there one week-day night for an early early dinner.

My chum has good taste; everything we ordered was a standout. Masterful cooking with robust flavours, the food at Gu Ma Jia was so damn good we returned a few days later to takeaway some of their dishes. The only problem: they seem to have an irresistible urge to put coriander leaves in every.single.thing...arghhh (and urghhh)...despite clear instructions to hold off all "yan sui, yin xu, xiang cai, qing cong, coriander leaves, parsley, spring onions". I'd even pointed to a picture of the herb on the menu. I don't think I could have been any more explicit, or been any more thorough in belabouring the instructions.

Soft and slightly springy, the Hotplate Thai Style Sotong ($22 one-size), slicked in a tangy spicy sauce, was perfectly cooked.  A delectable twist to the typical sambal sotong.

An absolute must-try, the Gu Ma Jia XO Prawn Noodle ($30 one-size) was crazy good. Flush with a rich broth sweetened by prawn stock, it was spiked with XO sauce for a punchy heat. The kangkong lent crunch while the prawns were sweet and fresh.

The Claypot Wine Chicken ($15 for small), redolent with ginger and sesame oil, was heady and balanced. I loved the textural contrast of the julienned black fungus to the succulent chicken.

The Yam Ring with XO Scallops ($38 one-size) overflowing with a vegetable hodgepodge of sugar snap peas, carrots, purple cabbage and lotus chips, shone in its simplicity. Another cannot miss here.


Gu Ma Jia Private Kitchen
45 Tai Thong Crescent
Sennett Estate
Tel: 6285 2023
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 2.30pm for lunch; 5.30pm to 10pm for dinner;
weekends from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.gumajia.com.sg/wp/

10.8.17

Pasta Salad

I love salads. But people are frequently surprised when I say that. I suppose it's because the salads they think of are boring mesclun greens dressed in some generic vinaigrette. But who says salads have to be boring? Or that eating clean and healthy has to be mutually exclusive to delicious? Not tooting my own horn here, but my salads have converted a few veggie-hating friends. Like this pasta salad, which I recently whipped up when Pet came over. As she said, if her parents had made her salads like this, she wouldn't hate greens so much.


Ingredients (feeds 4):
1 cup uncooked pasta, boiled in salted water till 1 minute before al dente, and cooled by an ice bath, and drained
5 cups arugula leaves
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
2 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
3 tbsp pitted and sliced kalamata olives
1 ball burrata, cut into small chunks
3 tbsp pesto
4 tbsp olive oil
salt to season

Directions:
1) Marinade cherry tomatoes with pesto and olive oil, with salt to season. Leave aside for 5 minutes.

2) Assemble salad any way you like. I layered the bottom with a mix of pasta, arugula, and basil, drizzled a little pesto-olive oil dressing on top, then topped that with cherry tomatoes, olives, eggs.

3) Finish with a layer of burrata and you're ready to go!


8.8.17

Royal J's Seafood

We were trying to hit up Kok Kee wanton mee at Lavender when we belatedly realised that they'd closed their shutters for good. Thoroughly disappointed, but still in need of sustenance, we wandered over the the coffeeshop behind and spotted Royal Js Seafood. A sizable week-night crowd suggested good food was to be had at the brightly lit cze char joint, so we thought to give it a shot. Besides, their much touted fried porridge seemed a novel antidote to the drizzle-cooled weather.

Perhaps the inordinately slow kitchen killed our appetite, or perhaps we ordered the wrong dishes, but we didn't think the food here was particularly outstanding to warrant a crowd. There were a couple of delectable dishes, but most were pedestrian, entirely unmemorable affairs.

The Prawn Fried Porridge ($36), a premium version of the overhyped fried porridge, was really porridge that was fried in a wok than simmered in a pot. Taste-wise, it was indistinguishable from regular 'ol porridge. Still, it was a scrumptious claypot of rice gruel, robust with fried yam cubes, pork lard nubbins, conpoy and shredded cuttlefish for a umami unctuousness. Topped off with 4 giant prawns which were sweet and juicy, this was delicious and comforting. A must-try here.

The Minced Pork Fried Tofu ($10) was a half-and-half. The beancurd was incredibly smooth and silky, but the garlic minced pork gravy needed salt and oomph. It was too bland.

The Crispy Garden Chicken ($12) was a riff on popcorn chicken, burnished with a tumeric spice rub and laced with fried shredded ginger strips. Nice but forgettable.

A twist to the ubiquitous sweet-and-sour pork, the Tasty Fried Pork ($12) was glazed with a marinade that was part coffee, part plum sauce, and part guinness, that was at once sweet, piquant, and smoky. A must-try here too. 

The Drunken Clam Soup (complimentary) was a moot appetizer, because it was lush with coriander leaves, which spoiled and overwhelmed the natural sweetness of the soup.


Royal J Seafood
30 Foch Road
Tel: 9357 3993
Open daily from 11am to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner
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