Thursday, August 30, 2007

Review: Keyaki

Call me suaku but until earlier this year, I had never been to Keyaki, at Pan Pacific hotel. In fact, I didn't even know that Pan Pacific had a Japanese restaurant, although apparently they have Japanese restaurants of the same name at every Pan Pacific, including those in Jakarta and Malaysia.

Anyway, accessible from a walkway on the 4th floor, the restaurant is designed as a 17th century Japanese farmhouse. You had to walk through a nice Japanese garden with koi ponds to get to the dining area and the whole thing is kinda lined with Japanese pebbles, rocks and bamboo. It's a nice oasis feeling, in the middle of the city.

Also, the Keyaki in Singapore is apparently one of the oldest and most traditional institutions for Japanese food, especially Japanese beef and teppenyaki. The restaurant is decently sized, with different counters and a large-ish dining room. A good number of the patrons, on the occasions I went there, were Japanese, usually businessmen and some excitable housewives out for a ladies lunch. The restaurant is a little dark and old for my tastes.

The sets are fairly good and extensive though not all are cheap. I believe the cheaper sets are about $30-40 while the more expensive beef-centered ones can run about $90-140. I don't remember exactly what the service staff's reply was but I believe that the sets also apply to the weekend.

We were having a very simple lunch, so I ordered some sashimi, which was alright but not that spectacular and a plate of teppenyaki beef, which is their specialty.

We also had some grilled lobster, very sweet and succulent and a small dish of vegetables.

The dessert was the usual green tea ice cream with azuki beans but it was a very good, smooth yet flavourful ice cream.

Keyaki Japanese Restaurant
The Pan Pacific Hotel 4/F
7 Raffles Boulevard (S)039595
Tel: 68268335

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Review: Inagiku

Inagiku is a huge restaurant in the convenient location of City Hall, it has a teppanyaki grill, a sushi counter, a tempura bar and a really extensive menu. That being said, I'm not sure what Inagiku has otherwise got going for it because the prices are too high, the patrons are too old (and increasingly, too few) and the weekend parking at Raffles City is a monstrous nightmare given the carousel mass weddings that take place there.

I have found one thing though and I was inspired by Mia's post about a good looking chirashi. Well, see now this is, I think a sexy looking chirashi. And least you think that was a fluke, another night when I went back, I was served this very racy looking number (check out that tuna, baby...).

For all of you Feed at Raffles cardholders, I have a little surprise. This chirashi is one of the things I do go to Inagiku for and it is Great value. There are two kinds of chirashi, I believe this is the regular jou chirashi, there's also a super duper, toro, uni filled chef's chirashi but I usually find that a little overwhelming. This one is usually about $70 which means that if you go in a pair, each bowl is $35.

That's probably cheaper than most half lame Japanese sushi stalls that I know and the fish is excellent. More than that, if you sit at the sushi counter, the chefs make this wonderful broth from the leftover fish of the day, it's an absolutely delicious, piping hot, flavourful soup swimming with the essence of fish, chives, daikon and a little bit of dashi and you only get it if you sit at the sushi counter, not if you sit at the regular tables.

We also ordered some toro sushi and it was subtle but heavenly. I've been told the best day to come to Inagiku is Saturday at lunchtime, right after they receive their morning shipment of fish but definitely the right thing to come to Inagiku with is a good sashimi-appreciating friend and a Feed at Raffles card.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Review: Jumbo Seafood at UDMC

Having grown up on the West Coast of Singapore all my life, I have never been extremely at ease driving or staying in the East Coast. Singapore is so small that you would not think which side you're on makes a difference at all, but it does. I recently went to the East Coast for a great seafood dinner with my colleagues and I was, like everytime I go there, surprised by the space, the tranquility and the leisure of the place. To be fair, it has changed quite a lot.

We went to the East Coast Park, which is a lovely green belt, landscaped with a new outdoor restaurant area and a cable-surfing pool. It was a lovely, cool, windy night to be out and we were all in great spirits as we'd been promised a seafood treat. It was indeed a feast.

The stir fried beef and two kinds of vegetables came first. We were all there for the seafood primarily but the other dishes at Jumbo Seafood can definitely hold their own.

We had a simple stir fried vegetable, followed by a sambal kang kong and the beef was just marinated then stir fried with shallots and spring onions.

These were followed by a large plate of mee goreng, which was alright but lacked flavour. Probably the only dish on the table left unfinished at the end of the meal.

This was followed by two dishes that I really enjoyed- the first was a dish of bamboo clams. Although I'm told these are really popular in Singapore, I've only ever had them once, perhaps because they are a very pricey dish. The way it was done here though, steamed, with simple light soya sauce, chilli, vermicelli, spring onion and garlic, really brought out the fragrance and tenderness of the clams. We each got one, but I could have eaten the whole dish!

The second dish was rather interesting, I've never had it before. This was fishcake, wrapped in a dried tofu shell and deep fried, then sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was the most brilliant unhealthy way of eating both fish cake and tofu and I entirely enjoyed it. The crunchiness of the tofu skin made a really good counterpoint to the soft flesh of the fish cake.

After these two dishes, we really got into the seafood, ie. fish and crabs portion of the meal. The first dish was the proverbial, but still very good, very soft and smooth, steamed fish. This was neither a garoupa or a soon hock, I think it was some type of seabass.

Afterward, we had three types of crabs, the butter crab and the chilli crab and the usual black pepper crab. Most tourists come here to eat crabs and you can see why, the flesh is succulent and the crabs are really big.

All three kinds were really good but I'm pretty old fashioned, I like my crabs just plain steamed with ginger or the butter crab, I usually find the black pepper crab a little hot for my taste! (Although the black pepper crab is Singapore's most well known and I think most well loved).

The chilli crab is not really hot but it comes with a sort of gooey curry sauce, into which some of the crab juices (and meat) has dribbled out, for which the restaurant gives you a plate of fried man tou or chinese bread dumplings, to dip in the sauce. Utterly sinful and totally yummy. I'm not a huge fan of the chilli crab, I usually like to taste my crab and its flavours without the chilli stinging the roof of my mouth, but I am a fan of the dipping gravy.

The restaurant was packed. If you want to go, make a reservation and get the table that's right on the outside, nearest to the water and the open sea breeze. I like this set up, I don't think it's the cheapest but it's clean and brightly lit, while maintaining the high standards for the freshness and quality of their seafood.

It's a sign of the booming economy that this place is filled pretty much any night of the week so if you intend to visit, plan ahead! It's a fun, communal experience, while not the most snobby of dining places, when approached with the right attitude, it is a hugely satisfying dinner.

Jumbo Seafood Pte Ltd
Blk 1206 East Coast Parkway #01-08
UDMC Seafood Centre Singapore 449883

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Review: Bonta

It's well-known among the food community that certain locations are 'cursed'; doomed to play host to a string of short-lived ventures - restaurants or eateries that open but invariably fail, leading to a new one opening in the same location and subsequently failing, ad infinitem.

A few notable examples have been the corner space at the junction of Sixth Avenue and Bukit Timah Road (recently occupied by Ubin Seafood), the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (formerly occupied by La Stella, presently home to the River Cafe) and perhaps most famously, this corner of Mohammad Sultan Road, which used to house the terrible restaurant Il Gladiatore (which itself replaced Fuenti).


The latest restaurant to set up shop in that ill-starred venue is Bonta, helmed by Chef Luca Pezzera, lately of the Hotel Intercontinental Jakarta, that is a worthwhile addition to a growing number of attractive Italian restaurants.

After hearing many reports that the 'curse' of UE Square had finally been broken, I decided to try it for myself.


Bonta actually occupies quite a large floorspace, with a fairly generous area devoted to al fresco dining. The real action though, is inside, and it is immediately obvious that Chef Luca knows a thing or two about entertaining.

The restaurant is stylish, but comforting. Bonta's done away with Il Gladiatore's exposed vents and pipes, and opted for a more classy look, with dappled lighting and sufficient glass and mirrorwork to enhance the space. Cleverly, one of the walls features an odd, textured mosaic that serves to absorb any excessive noise from rowdy patrons.


One of the things I'd heard so much about was Bonta's amazing bread-in-a-cup, which some patrons swore was the best they'd ever had.

While the bread certainly has a lot going for it (as well as in it - I tasted walnuts and sun-dried tomatoes), and is served wonderfully hot, it didn't seem all that special to me. Replacing the traditional olive oil, the olive and caper tapenade, while creative, just didn't fill the role of an oleogenic accompaniment to bread.


S and I shared the scallop starter, which came served in the shell. Oven-baked, with a generous helping of roe, the scallops were plump, soft and creamy, complemented by a tantalising olive hollandaise. Not usually a seafood fan, but the scallops were enjoyable.

Seafood spaghettini

In keeping with the seafood theme, S had an order of seafood spaghettini, which she didn't seem to enjoy that much; reporting that it was over-oily.

Oxtail Pappardelle

I had contemplated having the foie gras pasta, but it seemed a bit rich, even for me, so I decided to go with the pappardelle with braised ox-tail in arrabiata sauce. The pappardelle pasta was excellent - smooth al dente ribbons in a portion that was just the right size. What I didn't like, though, was the spicy arrabiata sauce (courtesy of the chilli seeds Chef Luca employed in the sauce), which I felt overpowered the flavour of the meat and upset the balance of the dish.

Molten Chocolate Cake

What Chef Luca does excel at, though, is public relations. After having a short exchange with us, he then proceeded to bring out two complimentary desserts - the cutest molten chocolate cakes I've ever seen.

Molten Chocolate cake 2

My only complaint was that the molten chocolate wasn't exactly hot, which meant that coupled with the ice cream, by the time it entered your mouth it was only faintly warm. Still, never look a gift horse in the mouth.

Bonta is certainly a promising new venture, and it seems to stand a good chance of finally overcoming the curse of UE Square. It may not be the best Italian restaurant out there, but it has plenty of potential, and only serves to liven up the interesting Mohammad Sultan district further.

Bonta (Italian)
207 River Valley Road
#01-61 UE Square
Tel: 6333 8875

Miscellaneous Food: Hong Kong Part 4

The next couple days in Hong Kong were fairly uneventful and work-filled. Thanks to the blistering heat and then the blowsy air-conditioning in the hotel, Colin was starting to feel a bit ill, so we reverted to looking for comfort and soupy food. We had planned to go to Yung Kee for dinner but were defeated by the long lines and wanted to make it to a massage after the meal.

Given the time constraint, we trooped around the corner at Cochrane Street and came upon this restaurant that I've seen often and which my cousin has told me is a restaurant with live Snake. The restaurant is called Se Wong (or Snake King).

Well, desperate times so we went in anyway and luckily they had tons of soups. We tried to ascertain that we were ordering one without snake and also got two plates of char siew noodle.

While distinctly a sub-par HK noodle, this was still superior to anything that the rest of Asia offers, so we were fairly happy and noted that there was nary a snake in sight (though the word snake, was all over the menu).

The next day, we did go back to Yung Kee and we finally got our meal of clear chicken, carrot and corn broth, roast goose, sweet and sour pork and vegetables. It was satisfyingly solid, Yung Kee is such a pain to queue for but it's hardly a disappointment.

After dinner, my brother and I had a little time and I'd be leaving Hong Kong the next day. We decided to go get some dessert and because my beloved shuang pi nai (steamed milk pudding with two films, I love that name!) was way out in Causeway Bay, we decided to stay in expat Central and go to Honeymoon Dessert in Sheung Wan.

There used to be a Honeymoon Dessert smack in Central near Lan Kwai Fong, in Entertainment Building, but it didn't seem very popular and now the only Central-esque branch that remains is in Sheung Wan, near the Shun Tak ferry terminal to Macau. You can take a cab there or just walk all the way down Hollywood Road toward the kitschy Western Market building.

The Western Market building is very interesting, it was built to house greater things but today, it just has a lot of strange make-shift textiles shops, dessert huts and on the top floor, some KTV that streams live 'music' from their patrons through the whole building.

The highlight of Honeymoon is the sago desserts, of which there are a huge variety. Pretty much you can get any kind of fruit with sago and any combination of those and other HK desserts, like soyabean, black bean, sesame, papaya and fungus. My favourite is their mango pomelo sago and they have this awesome hot dessert, which is a baked taro with sage. It sounds dense but it's really yummy. I also quite like the papaya shake, though not as good as at Yee Shun.

One quirky thing that I like a lot about this place is the melamite bowls and plates that they have. The cheery yellow plates are inscribed with the corniest pictures and wordings, all disturbingly featuring children. For example their plates have this little girl dreaming of a muscle man and the captions are typically Japanese lost in translation. Apparently the guy who makes them takes classic propaganda motifs of Communist-era children and mixes them with captions off Japanese stationary. I've tried to buy the crockery off the owners but they refuse to do a private order. I thought it'd be hilarious to use it at home, with every scoop, the baby on the spoon laughs up at you through your dessert.

Honeymoon is a chain and is also available in Shanghai. I think there are obviously some great local dessert huts and I have a few favourites but I think this shop, being one of their largest, is consistent, convenient and clean. Definitely worth a dessert stop if you're still hungry!

Yung Kee
32-40 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
(852) 2522 1624

Honeymoon Dessert
Shop 4-6, ground floor,
Western Market, Sheung Wan

Miscellaneous Food: Hong Kong Part 3

Later in the weekend, there weren't any real dining plans, but after swimming, it seemed fitting to take a stroll down to Soho and check out this steak place that I'd been told was very good.

The whole area at Soho has been quite rejuvenated, I was loving the new furniture stores and art galleries and there are all the newer clubs and drinking holes, like Mint, the Publishing House and Tivo.

Wagyu is a fairly sizable, slick and trendy establishment. The restaurant has a clever set up of a folded glass street frontage that can be rolled back when the weather gets cool and comfortable pod seating that puts diners at ease. The owners are rumoured to be the Jaspa Group and the manager is Australian, however, the restaurant falls slightly short of being friendly (or maybe that's just because I wasn't Australian) and I thought the service was curt (plus they forgot my appetizer entirely). I wasn't entirely upset, the other appetizers weren't that special, one was a bowl of steaming mussels, which Colin reported were fishy and the other was a plate of minced meat with lettuce leaf wraps, which, while more authentic then I had expected, was way too salty.

They offer all the usual cuts in sizes 8, 10 and 12 ounce sizes, and a selection of other kinds of steak including Black Angus and Filet Mignon. They offer Wagyu and a Wagyu burger, though expect to pay the same kind of premiums!

The fish is flown in daily from Australia though it is also grilled Aussie-style (ie. crudely) and served with that nauseating, irritatingly 'fusion' staple spelling of "Bok Choy" (sorry, I get this absolutely Asian-pride cringe when I see that on, especially, an Aussie menu).

The next day, I was swamped with meetings but got to take a break at lunchtime to have a quick bite with a friend at the IFC Mall at H1 or Harlan's. The owner and chef is Harlan G from New York, who was lately from the Aberdeen Marina Club, and the restaurant was chosen as one of the 10 hotspot restaurants of 2004. The restaurant comes with chef's table and wine cellar and all the other trappings of a chef to the rich and famous.

The menu is very extensive and the culinary style is modern America. The signature dishes are slow cooked Wasyu beef cheek with cipolle gravy and spaghetti with a half lobster. What I liked best was the dining room's bold colours and stunning harbour view, this is definitely one of those places that looks better and sexier at night. This is also one of those places where, if you know what I mean, you look better and sexier at night.

It was telling that this was one of the only places in Central that we could get a last minute reservation at and realistically it was also crowded, but I think the high prices turn off most of the lunchtime crowd. At dinner, the H One Tasting Menu is priced at HK$580.00 +10% tax per person and is available between August 1st and August 31st 2007.

We had a lamb kofta with mint and hummus and I had a burger. Both were passable, the kofta more so than the burger, which had juicy but somehow flavourless meat.

Wagyu G/F Shop 3,
The Centrium, 60 Wyndham Street
Central, Hong Kong

IFC Mall, Shop 2075
(852) 2805 0566