Comida Mexicana – Mexican Fare & Margaritas We Can’t Get Enough Of

Newly opened in Katong, Comida Mexicana is technically not new — it was formerly Margarita’s East Coast. In its refreshed branding and new menu, proprietress Vivian Wee continues to serve up top notch Mexican fare with a focus on healthy cooking, quality ingredients and fabulous flavours. I’ll admit, this post is particularly enthusiastic because hers has been our favourite neighbourhood restaurant for well over 15 years (ie. we’ve put our money where our mouth is), and we are very familiar with her as well as the food she whips up.

Oh, but Mexican is so heavy, and it’s all just refried beans and tacos, you say. Well, rest assured, not here.

For those who like their tipples, let me just state that they serve the best margaritas on this earth. There are several grades on the menu. The higher grades are smooth and well rounded, but the house pour margarita’s ($18) are good enough for me — I like them with a bit of an edge. And you’ll definitely feel the buzz from these. I like them classic, but if you fancy a twist, the tamarind margarita — as odd as it sounds — is actually very nice. There’s also sangria, mojito and daiquiris if you prefer.

Food portions are very generous here and meant for serious sharing. Not like the trendy ‘sharing plates’ that are actually two-thirds the size of full main courses, these are genuine, generous, hefty dishes. As a guideline, if there’s three of you, you’ll just need two appetisers and two mains to share, and get a jug of margarita. If you still have space for desserts, order two again to share. We promise you’ll be rolling out the restaurant after that.

So, on to the food. To start, share the mashed avocado sopes ($20), little tarts (made from scratch) piled with refried beans, guacamole, and a lime wedge, and my must-have, tortilla chips with home-made red salsa ($6), tangy, rich, with a substantial chillied kick. The mushroom fritters are great too.

From her main courses, the Mexican Yucatan chicken ($28) is a must have, comprising five large pieces of grilled leg meat on skewers. Marinated in achiote, garlic, orange and lemon juice, they are tasty, juicy with a zippy tang, served in a tortilla ‘bowl’ filled with salad and four steamed tortilla. Get hands-on and assemble your own tortilla wrap, filled with meat, salad and pieces of fried tortilla bowl. Since it made its debut, this dish has been making ‘instagrammed’ countless times and has won many over. And it’s large enough for two to share.

The carne asada ($52) is a drippingly juicy, boldly flavoured grain-fed beef marinated in brandy, tequila and orange juice, served with tortilla, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream, salsa rojas, and black beans. It comes to the table sizzling, and is absolutely delectable. We love the carnitas, too, comprising delectable pulled pork slow-cooked for two and a half hours and served with tortilla, salsa rojas, salsa verde, and guacamole. Like the chicken, these are meant for hands-on assembling fun. If you fancy seafood, the cornflakes crusted baby snapper fillets ($32) with roasted tomatillo sauce is good – crisp, zingy and generous. The chicken burrito, and the braised lamb shank ($38) are also favourites.

If you’ve still got space for dessert, have the salted caramel pina colada bread pudding ($15). Unapologetic and not for the faint at heart, this is made of brioche soaked in dark rum and cream, with chopped pineapples, coconut ice cream and lashings of salted caramel sauce. Divine. And there’s the kahbrita ($14), a moreish composition of homemade coconut ice cream coated in chocolate powder, kahlua and a shot of espresso. A Mexican version of the affogato.

A passionate cook who is also totally health conscious, Vivian makes everything from scratch in her restaurant kitchen, from the sauces and salsas to ice cream. She imports most of her ingredients from Mexico and the USA, including avocadoes, chillies, beans and tomatillos — and most of them organic as far as possible. Canned ingredients are avoided as far as possible. Another thing worth noting, with three days advanced notice, she offers made-to-order reduced-sugar cakes such as Kahlua Tiramisu, Carrot Cake, Banana Cake, and Bread & Butter Pudding ($80-$150 for 3kg, takeaway only). And did we say they serve the best margarita’s on earth?

404 East Coast Road, Singapore 428998
Tel: (65) 6440 8030
(Closed on Mondays unless they are public holidays or PH eve)


Fratelli’s Colossal To-Die-For Veal Rack

Located in Hotel Michael in Resorts World Sentosa, Fratelli has made it to my personal list of ‘must go’ restaurants in Singapore, and definitely worth the drive to Sentosa.

This celebrity chef restaurant — backed by brothers Roberto and Enrico Cerea of three-Michelin starred Da Vittoria in Lombardy — is a contemporary Italian restaurant that serves up creative, contemporary yet authentic fare with fundaments firmly based on the traditional cuisine. The cooking here is delightfully precise, and the dishes impressively done (and I’m not easily impressed these days). Helming it is Chef de cuisine Davide Bizzari, and together they have just rolled out their new menu, with most items from the ‘mother restaurant’ in Lombardy.

If there is one thing you must order, it is their colossal 1kg bone-in Milanese veal rack. Juicily tender and sweet, the meat is coated in breadcrumbs and crushed breadsticks, then deep fried in clarified butter. You could smell the butter wafting in like a herald as the cutlet was hauled in; then it was assembled at the tableside – with roasted tomatoes, crushed potato wedges and lemons arranged on top. Bite into it, hear the splintering crunch of the breaded coating, inhale the buttery aroma and the experience brings tears to your eyes. It’s true. I thought I heard a choir of angels sing. On the menu, they call it “elephant ear” and it is almost that large. The bone runs on just one side of the cut and the rest is beautiful meat. As the only main course, it could easily feed six conservatively. This is a seasonal item — read ‘short term’ — and the meat is from native Italian Piedmontese breed called Fassone, known for being lean and tender.

Another must-have is the Pizza Oro Nero, a squid ink pasta topped with mussels, salted cod fish, clams, baby squid, plump orbs of trout roe, tomatoes and topped with gold dust. Set against the black ink, it is the most glamorous looking pizza I have ever encountered – and it was good too.

The chittara pasta ($34) is worth having for its uniqueness. It is handmade, and shaped by pressing sheets of fresh pasta through metal strings strung across a wooden frame — quite a tedious process. This results in a spaghetti that has a square rather than round cross section, with a firm, short bite. Served with braised short ribs ragu and shards of truffles, it is a very rich, thick, hearty dish which, while delectable, is best eaten in small doses, in my view. Lovely as it is, it can easily become ‘jelak’ as we say here in Singers.

For appetisers — sorry, we seem to be working backwards here — go for the steamed Boston lobster ($48) with avaocado wasabi cream and red capsicum mousse. Everything on the plate is as it should be in its best rendition — juicy sweet, lightly chewy lobster; and intense, smooth, luxurious mousse and creams which must not be wasted.

A highlight for dessert is Rosella’s Strawberry Planet, a meringue sphere which you break open to get to the strawberry inside. All in all, a fabulous meal, even if the interiors had a somewhat bland 1990s look.

Good to know: If you’re driving, just park like how you would go to Universal Studios, take the escalator up and walk along Festive Walk towards the hotel. Fratelli has an entrance facing Festive Walk, obliquely opposite Osia. That’s probably the most straightforward path to the veal rack.

Tel: (65) 6577 6555 or email
Closed Tues

Edible Flowers And Afternoon Tea At The Langham

Everything is coming up floral and pretty at The Langham, Hong Kong this Spring. If you have an occasion to celebrate, be it a girly catch up, a girlfriend’s birthday or Mothers’ Day, then we recommend that you make a booking for their specially themed, ‘Blooming Afternoon Tea’ at The Langham Hotel’s Palm Court.

Here’s a tip to book for the 25th and 26th of March when British illustrator, Tanya Bennet will be there to design guest portraits for you to take back. If you are wondering why her ultra-cute illustrations look so familiar, its because you’ve seen these water colour sketches and fashion vignettes commissioned for use by brands like Christian Louboutin, Cartier, and Lane Crawford, all of whom have engaged Tanya for various campaigns.

We love the ambience at Palm Court. The setting is just intimate, classy and sublime. The plush armchair lounge creates an inviting and relaxed atmosphere where you just want to sit back and sink in, take genteel sips of your favourite tea (pinkies pointed up) and chat to your hearts content against the melodic tinkling tunes from the pianist, playing live in the background. Definitely a nice place to feel magically transported from the crowds, stress and humdrum of the everyday.

Executive Pastry Chef Matthieu Godard and his culinary team have designed a selection of five exquisite pastries decorated as a bouquet of blossoms and the tea has an overall floral theme from the exquisite wedgewood platters on which he serves his creation to the fact that he uses real flowers as decorations, all edible.

Jasmine is a pistachio and white chocolate macaron filled with a dash of jasmine tea flavoured cream. Rose is a decadent vanilla panna cotta with luscious rose and strawberry mousse served in a glass, topped with a thin chocolate rose petal.

Viola is a playful arrangement as a bite-sized chocolate flower pot planted with Gianduja cream rich in hazelnut, and viola flowers. Marigold is a fruity dome incorporating yuzu mousse, apricot jam and lemon biscuit, while Daisy offers a buttery base of sablé breton with raspberry mousse and Chantilly cream.

Savoury accompaniments include the “pseudo” tomato patch with fillings of smoked salmon and cream cheese, chicken with Dijon mustard, and green pea hummus with sesame paste. There are also scones and cheese sticks if you want to fill up after.

And if tea lingers on to Happy Hour, we suggest you try their Garden Globe Cocktail at the adjoining Artesian Bar. 100% instagram-worthy, this create cocktail features an ice sphere with live edible flowers (almost like a mini terrarium) delicately balanced on top of the glass with a creative cocktail concoction below made with  elderflower, violet flower and black currant liqueur, as well as fresh lime juice and egg white. This cocktail is priced at HK$130 per glass and is available from 1 March to 30 April 2017.

The Blooming Art Afternoon Tea is available at Palm Court, at The Langham Hong Kong from 21 March to 31 May 2017  at HK$348 for one person and HK$598 for two persons, subject to 10 per cent service charge. The guest portrait experience is offered on 25 March 2017 at 2:15 – 4:15 p.m., 4:30 – 6:30 p.m., and on 26 March 2017 at 2:15 – 4:15 p.m. Reservations at +852 2132 7898


Restaurant Review: All Nighter Korean Chicken And Beer Delights!

It’s no secret that in the last two years, the Hong Kong fast food scene has been influenced by the growing K-Pop phenomenon.

Korean restaurants especially fast food joints have popped up everywhere capitalising on the Korean ‘chimek’ craze, combining the word ‘chicken’ with the Korean word for beer, ‘mekju’. This approach combining east and west flavours, has transformed a traditional fast food and humble fried chicken into a favourite snack that seems to have  transcended diverse cultures.

In Tsim Sha Tsui (or TST, as its fondly called) near the Mira Hotel and down from Knutsford Terrace, there is even an enclave called ‘Korean Town’ dotted with Korean supermarkets, mom and pop snack shops, eateries selling Korean fast food and Korean BBQ joints.

Not confined to just that area and relatively nearby, at Hau Fook Street – parallel to Kowloon’s hugely popular shopping area, Granville Road, we were invited to check out CHIBEE, the latest Korean Chicken and Beer outlet there. No guesses what the ‘Chi’ and ‘Bee’ in their name stands for. The big difference about this particular Korean outlet is the fact that they pull an all-nighter and they are open till 5am with a sports bar vibe that has them screening live football and sports matches till the early hours. A perfect spot for insomniacs, supper lovers and sports fans who want a place to congregate past the witching hour.

Chibee’s first outlet made its debut in Causeway Bay in 2015, It opened as a roaring success with a winning recipe of fried chicken with spicy sauces and delicious snack-style bites washed down with bottled beers and soju.

Outdoor Balcony at TST

Inspired to open another outlet, the owners have given its second branch a hip interior and a rooftop balcony so that you can chill outside, perfect for the Winter months. It opened recently in Tsim Sha Tsui’s H8 Food Mall on September 22. this year.

In terms of food, the formula is the same, but the menu has definitely expanded to include specialties that you can only enjoy at this particular outlet.

We headed over for dinner last week to try a few of their exclusive items. The first was the Fondue Chicken that comes with curly fries and a cheese fondue with a side of Korean pickles. I would have preferred the cheese to be a bit more melted and drippy but otherwise a nice snack that washes down well with a tall glass of Korean beer.

Chicken, Fries and Cheese Fondue (HK$152)

Their Dino Cheese Balls (HK$60) made of minced chicken and cheese is another item unique to the Chibee TST branch. Think of these as large-size Chicken Meat Balls mixed with cheese. They are hearty and you are meant to tear them apart to go with the dipping sauce that taste a bit like a cole slaw.

The drink that you see in the picture below is a definite signature to Chibee. This is called the Strawberry Cider Rita (HK$98) and features a bottle of Sprite suspended over a Strawberry and Cider mix.

Dino Cheese Balls (HK$60)

The best fried chicken dish I had that night was this most definitely this addictive number – the Fried Nongshim Noodle Chicken (HK$168). The chicken is coated with favourite Korean Nongshim noodles before deep frying, This gives the Chicken a delicious crispy exterior with that salty ‘mah-mee’ noodle taste. Pair this with a mild dipping sauce, Korean pickles and a bit of salad and you won’t stop at one basket. Heart ‘clogging-ly’ good and most certainly calorie-worthy!

Fried Nongshim Noodle Fried Chicken (HK$168)

We also had a few accompanying orders of a totally tasty hotpot noodle dish which I will not hesitate to order again – the Budaejjigae (HK$220). We also had some Shin Ramyun Chicken (HK$168), Korean Rice balls  (HK$58) which are actually triangle in shape and generously covered in seaweed, and the Spicy Tteokbokgi (HK$98) a tasty rice cake that looks like cheong fun, famously used in Korean street food.

Lunch sets are also served, and the drinks menu offers a range of bottled beers, juices, cider and trendy fruit-flavoured sojus.


CHIBEE is at 23/F of 8 Hau Fook Street, just a stroll from Exit B2 of Tsim Sha Tsui MTR. Opening hours are midday-4pm on weekdays, and every night from 6pm-5am.  Tel:  (852) 2158 1818


Restaurant Review: HMV Bar And Restaurant In Hong Kong

Diversification is definitely the buzz word in retail today. Retailers especially book, music and movie retailers have had to move with the times or move out and make way.

I recall a time in Singapore in the 90s when HMV was the biggest flagship store on Orchard Road holding a retail location and size that only Apple (in today’s retail climate) would dare to occupy. It was a place where you would go hangout on a Saturday and know that you would see at least 10 familiar faces and spot even some local celebrities, just browsing and buying. Fast forward 15 years and music is now bought online and stored remotely and CDs have become collectibles and records, labelled vintage. How times have changed!

Which is why it’s been forever since I last walked into a HMV store so when I got an invite from HMV Hong Kong to check out the food at their Bar and Restaurant, I was piqued and curious to see what they had done with the brand. To see how the concept had changed and discover what had happened to the ‘music destination store’ that I once knew as the ‘Temple of Cool’.

The HMV Store is a 3 storey venue comprising about 38,000 square foot of space. Located in Causeway Bay, this is the brand’s flagship store in Hong Kong.

A lift from the street level (hidden somewhere behind the Wellcome supermarket fronting Causeway Bay’s Fashion Walk) brings you up directly to the eatery which is HMV’s Bar & Restaurant. The lift opens up on the 4th floor to a space that is big, warm and friendly. You feel like you have walked into a decked up school hall with some retail in one corner, a large stage area for shows and performances and to the side, a spacious bar and eatery that can seat about 230! Great, if there is a mini concert playing.

The Store and space has a “Live, Play, Eat” mantra – a bit of a throwback to the 80s Hard Rock Cafe “Love all, Serve all” rebel cry. Here, the concept is somewhat similar – an all-day dining venue with local talent and live music gigs thrown into the mix. However, with this store, there is a distinct retail element.

Whilst the sale of actual music (in the form of CDs and Records) no longer drives the cash register, there is a good cache of supporting merchandise on the 3 floors below that compliments the music genre. A quick wander down from the restaurant will bring you to a floor that sells audio equipment like turntables, head phones, vinyl accessories and speakers alongside Discs and Records and another two floors that sell Movies, Toys and Lifestyle items like bikes and accessories and Fashion including t-shirts, caps and bags, home accessories.

I was pleasantly surprised when I was seated for lunch. I expected something much more casual, a drinks and nibbles venue rather than a full blown restaurant but obviously, to reinvent the brand and to get that foot traffic into the venue, change has become necessary.

What they have done to the dining space is impressive and what they have done to the menu is even more commendable. Suffice to say that if you are here on Performance Evenings (Wednesday is Jazz Night and Saturdays are for Pop and Acoustic) or if you find yourself just browsing for a bargain from their movie and CD section, then you should actually also go ahead and book a spot for dinner too.

No disappointments on the menu as their new Chef Macy Lai hails from the right restaurant pedigree having worked with Bo Innovation and Jamie’s Italian here. She’s introduced an extensive menu that offers all-day breakfasts, health conscious items, more than decent drinks and desserts and even trendy Korean shaved ice to catch the current rage for all things Seoul.

Plating and presentation have elevated the overall experience from diner to restaurant. I am a fan of the visual feast so I appreciate the effort put into the showcasing of each dish and how rather than just plates she has incorporated planks, slabs and other fun ideas.

Our meal started with some of their recommended specialties like the Lemongrass Shrimp, Pomelo & Mango Mesclun Salad with Toasted Peanut (HK$98). There was a nice ‘tanginess’ to the salad dressing and the portion was great for sharing.

We tried two main courses. The first was the HMV Wagyu Beef Burger (HK$158) – good if you are hungry! The portion is generous and comes on a wooden plank. The wagyu is Australian beef, topped with mature cheddar, Roma tomato, smoked UK black treacle bacon, homemade jalapeño pepper mayo made using Japanese eggs, and Italian black truffles. Sandwiched in a buttery brioche bun, the burger comes served with thick cut fries and a homemade truffle mayo which comes in a mini mason jar was a nice and tasty touch to the whole meal.

I particularly liked the Lobster Uni Roll (HK$188) and I would come back for this one. Made from Boston lobster, Korean uni, homemade mayo, saffron, it is sandwiched in a buttery brioche bun. Visually stunning there is a lot going on with this dish. It came served with side of local sweet corn and crispy lotus chips which were absolutely crisp and delicious. Note that only 20 portions are available daily so place your order when you book.

To commemorate what would have been the late Leslie Cheung’s 60th birthday, we also decided to try the Dessert Platter Special Set (HK$88 from now till 11 October) featuring an Earl Grey Puff, Raspberry Opera cake, Passionfruit Tart,  Blueberry Macaroon and White Chocolate Orange Truffle.

And ordered a drink from a menu of mocktails (starting at HK$58). All part of the special ‘Leslie’s 60th Promotion’).

By this time, we were too full to sample the Korean Ice Desserts or other recommended menu items like the Slow Cooked Canadian Pork Loin Sandwich with Red Cabbage Compote & Mustard (HK$128), the Grilled Bacon & Brie Cheese Sandwich (HK$68) and the Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle (HK$138). Saving these to try, the next time we visit.

Besides the good eats, other compelling reasons to head down the next time you are in the vicinity:

  • The place is open for Brunch from 10am.
  • There is an All Day Breakfast – served everyday from 10am daily to midnight.
  • On Fridays and Saturdays, the Restaurant and Store closes at 2am – a great place to head for a post-midnight snack!
  • Students who present their Student ID Cards, all get a 20% discount!
  • There are regular LIVE performances twice a week.  Mark your diaries for 8pm to 10pm on Wednesdays (Jazz) and Saturdays (Acoustic Pop) as this is when the stage lights up for Local Live Performances, DJs and other performances. See the schedule HERE or HERE.

HMV Bar & Restaurant is at 4/F, Pearl City Mansion, 22-36 Paterson Street, Causeway Bay. Tel: (852) 25041538. See:

Dinner At A North Korean Restaurant In Shanghai!

Shrouded in secrecy and isolated from the world, North Korea exudes an air of mystery. Hardly anything is known about the country except media stories about their dear leader, Kim Jong Un – his unrivalled cult-style of governance that has bred a nation of adoring people who hang on to his every command.  And yet, amidst the uphoria of living in utopia, stories have emerged about defectors who have risked it all to leave everything and everyone behind – to start anew. Most recent are defection reports about a senior North Korean official in London and 13 restaurant staff in Ningbo, China.

Apparently there are 130 state-owned North Korean restaurants in 12 countries. Most are in China, but they can also be found in Russia, Dubai, Malaysia, Cambodia, Mongolia and Vietnam.

In Shanghai over the weekend and curious about the hype, I decided to visit one of these elusive North Korean state-owned restaurants and here’s what I discovered:

The Pyongyang Koryo is located on the 2nd floor of Shanghai’s Tong Mao Hotel.

Not One But Three Such Restaurants In Shanghai!

There are apparently three North Korean restaurants in Shanghai (Pudong, Changning and Xuhui). The one I went to was called Pyongyang Koryo and this was the one located at the Tong Mao Hotel in Shanghai. You won’t find this listed on Shanghai’s Trip Advisor  nor will you find a link to the restaurant’s website. Our visit to the place felt like a very covert trip to discover something revered or forbidden which probably added to my overall fascination.

The Tong Mao Hotel in Pudong houses the North Korean restaurant that we visited.

Off The Beaten Track

There are only a handful of articles about the restaurant which I have tagged links to above. Otherwise, it is not an easy find as you can’t simply google it as there is no website. The staff at the restaurant according to this CNN article are not even aware that other similar restaurants exist or even if they are, they are unable to give you details and locations. There are also no facebook pages, trip advisor mentions and even the Hotel that it is located at does not even list it on it’s official website.

The Tong Mao Hotel is a four star typical Chinese-style hotel, located in Pudong, slightly off the beaten track and oddly surrounded by austere office buildings. The Hotel website only recommends their Chinese and Western restaurant and not their North Korean tenants – strange, because the first thing that you see after passing through the Hotel’s revolving doors – is the more casual Pyongyang Cafe on the left. Climb up the stairs and at a discreet corner, is the main Pyongyang Koryo restaurant.

Stuck In Time

Just walking into the restaurant is a step back into a time warp spiralling back (not even to the 80s which would have been acceptable) but more like going all the way back to the 50s. My parents would probably recognise that era, as none of us reading this would have even been born then.

Strangely, it is not the ambience or the dated decor that is the giveaway. It is the fact that every staff member that you encounter there looks like one of the actresses in the old video tapes of the weepy Chinese TV serials from the 70s that your parents refuse to throw away. Except that the look is even more dated than that – from the hairstyles of the serving staff who wear their hair tied back into a single braided ponytail (even when dressed in Western attire on stage) to their style of makeup (heavy foundation, fair two-way caked faces themed with bright red lipstick against jet black hair), their choice of glittery hair accessories and the very unflattering 1980s office girl white pumps with heels.

Stepping into the restaurant, you almost get this feeling that you’re the real outsider –  completely out of place and dressed strangely with your highlighted wavy tresses, boho sling bag, frayed denim jeans with rips in the knees, off shoulder Summer blouse, strappy sandals and the latest iPhone in hand.

Don’t mistake my comments – the girls are stunning. Way above average. These are not your short, stubby Aunties serving you. Almost every waitress was young (definitely in their early 20s), tall, slim and willowy. All educated, well mannered and soft-spoken, graceful and able to speak fluent conversational Mandarin.

Small Talk But No Photos

We found out that the girls are all from elite North Korean families. The one that served us shared politely that she has worked at this restaurant for one and the half years and all of them are University graduates who consider this their duty and only opportunity to work and serve their country by sharing their culture and food.

I complimented her on her mandarin which was probably better than mine and she replied graciously and coyly that she had to take the initiative to study it on her own before coming over and after she came over to China she had lessons. She brushed up her understanding and accent picking it up along the way from speaking daily to customers. She added humbly and with a gracious smile, “顾客足是我们的老师”!- “the customers are our teachers”.

As the orders were taken and the food started arriving, another crew of girls came out from the kitchen entrance and behind stage to set it up. I took out my mobile phone to snap a few pictures. Our waitress quickly placed her hand at the back of my phone camera and firmly said, “no photos!” bringing our attention to the sign board above us that read – NO PHOTOS.

Of course, a meal at this restaurant would not be complete without a few stolen shots so when she disappeared to get our orders, I quickly snapped a few, just in time, before she hurried back. Throughout the rest of the meal and performance, the same girl stood politely about 2 metres behind me, at a discreet corner of the restaurant, keeping a watchful eye on my phone.

An All-Girl Crew

Strangely we saw very few men in the restaurant. No male Manager just a slightly older ‘host’ who must have been only in her 40s, standing mostly at the door and making the announcements on stage later.

Perhaps the men were sitting amidst the crowd, posing as customers but were actually minders watching out for rowdy and possibly drunk customers but their presence was not obvious. At most there may have been a male cook inside the kitchen but otherwise, this was strictly an all-girl crew. The performers who took to the stage also took on male roles when required, which was even stranger.

We heard that the girls stay in the Hotel (yes, upstairs) and they are seldom allowed out and that they do not get paid or if they do, the amount is for pocket money as everything from food and lodging to basic necessities are provided by the State. Free time is allowed but limited and strictly monitored. The waitress I spoke to shared that she expects that most restaurant postings would be for a minimum of 2 to 4 years before they return to their homelands.

Korean Food But Just Not The Way You Are Used To Eating It

The food – hmm – let’s just say that you should not expect your South Korean BBQ. You don’t DIY at these North Korean restaurants.

The food (even BBQ items) is all cooked in the kitchen and served to you. So forget the little plates of garlic, kimchi, seasoned nuts that arrive when you are at the South Korean eateries. Also forget the delicious pork ribs dripping with melted cheese, and the lovely egg dip that swims around the side of the hot plate as you barbecue your meat.

In terms of fashionable food and cooking style – North Korean restaurants are strictly traditional. Probably a menu of what you would have expected to eat in South Korea in the 60s.  There are though, some interesting specialties that we tried that you might want to order if you venture there.

This is a Black Rice rolled up and sliced like sausages. Very good. It tasted like glutinous rice with a hint of chestnut and perhaps some pork.


Barbecued prawns – these were pretty much like the usual barbecued fare but I liked the fact that there were big and meaty and well seasoned.


Not quite bulgogi but this marinated beef dish was pretty tasty and cooked in the kitchen and then brought out with a side plate of veggies that you have to order to wrap them in.

The tuna sashimi was chilled and very fresh but not quite my thing although very colourful and appetising with that little orchid embellishment on the left corner.

KTV North Korean Style

The entertainment is perhaps what sets aside a North Korean restaurant from its neighbour in the South.  Dinner comes with a show which starts about 730pm for the first seating. You are requested to arrive and be seated at 645pm if you are booked for the first set. Yes there are two seatings to presumably maximise profits. The North Korean restaurants largely operate not as a form of cultural exchange but more as a  means to bring foreign currency back into their economies.

I am stumped just trying to describe the show. The show starts with a ‘cool rocker-chick’ (pictured above) getting on stage and picking up her electric guitar.

Ms ‘DPRK rocker chick’ (lets call her that for now) is fully made up and has hair braided behind her head into a tidy ponytail with glittery rhinestone style clips at the side. She is wearing a black tight dress that even Joan Jett would cringe at as its made of a lace top half with three-quarter sleeves and a princess cut bust line in front. The look is complete and resplendant with panty-hosed legs and white pumps with heels.

She picks up her electric guitar (Hard Rock Cafe – NOT!) and we are off to a rousing start (K-pop NOT!). I have to confess I have never heard Korean folk songs played on an electric guitar and after a few chords she is joined by an accordian player and someone  on the electric keyboard and another girl on drums. It was like attending a rock concert on another planet. Behind the two musicians, off stage is a large screen TV playing silent footage of montages and homeland scenes of North Korea.

An emcee of sorts appears in a flowery gown on stage. I actually liked their beautifully embroidered and brightly coloured native costumes and truth be told, if they had stuck to that, the whole experience would have been less bizarre!

An emcee comes onstage and introduces the performance and welcomes everyone in high pitched mandarin. The show is about an hour long. From Korean folk songs, the repertoire expands into a few popular Chinese songs (again songs from the 70s all about wholesome friendships and young love) and then the floral bouquets make their debut.

Plastic flowers wrapped in tulle and cellophane in large bouquets that look like they have been around for some time are given to the female members of the audience. I got a bouquet which they took back afterwards as it was a prop and just ‘part of the show’.

The children are given smaller bouquets and encouraged to go up on stage to award  them to the singers after each performance amidst the rowdy clapping. The music gets louder and louder and then it breaks into dancing.

You realise that there are more performers on stage and some of them were serving food earlier on the floor but have now got into fancy costumes. 3 such girls get on stage to do a tap dance followed by 3 more who come up to stage performing a folk dance with pots that they skilfully balance on their heads and then proceed to whirl around with on stage at dizzying speeds.

After this, people celebrating engagements or birthdays get invited on to stage to pose under a flower canopy held up by the performers. They get serenaded to with a mix of Korean and Chinese love songs that I don’t quite recognise.

The show ends with a carousing song and dance. Head bands with rosettes and leis are handed out to members of the audience. Everyone joins in from Ms ‘Rock-Chick (see above left in picture) to waitresses.

Expect to join in or get dragged onto stage, yes kids, adults and all – no exclusions. Definitely not for spoil sports or the faint hearted.  Think ‘Ring Around The Roses’ done on stage – yes, in a circle!

At the end of dinner and the show, the bill is presented and the same waitress hastens towards us to ask us if we enjoyed ourselves and to get some feedback on the food. I have to say that the training and the service is close to excellent here. Probably way beyond what you would get at any other restaurant in China.

A senior waitress or lady host says goodbye at the door and we hurry out .. back into the black night .. a little stupified at what we had just experienced .. amazed that for that two hours, we were given a tiny glimpse and taste into the secret world of North Korea.

Interested to try the experience for yourselves? You might want to before they all close down.

The closest North Korean restaurant to Singapore is in Malaysia  and for readers in Hong Kong, there are several North Korean restaurants in China, mainly in Shanghai and Beijing.

Restaurant Review: Ash & Elm

Ash & Elm is the (relatively) new all-day dining restaurant at the Intercontinental Singapore. It took over the space that used to be Olive Tree, which had come to look rather dated and screaming for a new concept. So this is it, a dark, brooding, and very large restaurant that impresses with its chic, New York good looks. Modern chandeliers, mood lighting, timber, marble and mosaic surfaces, and dark colours set off the three serving stations to the left of the restaurant — a dedicated cheese and charcuterie room, pizza station with its wood fired oven & charcoal grill, and dessert station.

Helming the kitchen here is Executive Sous Chef Phillipe Duc, who has a fine pedigree, having lead the kitchen of SPOON by Alain Ducasse at the InterContinental Hong Kong, as well as having worked in highly respected temples of gastronomy as 3-Michelin star Alain Ducasse, 2-Michelin star Les Ambassadeurs in Paris’s Hotel de Crillon, and SPOON des Iles at One&Only Le Saint Géran in Mauritius.

Assorted Flatbread (Proscuitto & Arugula, Pumpkin & Bacon, Vegetarian)

The pumpkin and bacon flat bread ($18) made in the wood-fired oven is a tasty starter perfect for sharing. Comfort food for one who loves pumpkin, this is a winning combination of savoury, sweet and puffy-chewy bread with again that slight crunch from the grill. The Ash & Elm Platter ($24 small/$42 large) of house-cured charcuterie is also a good choice for sharing. It features house cured beef pastrami, house smoked pork loin, roast beef, and foie gras with smoked duck. In fact, Ash & Elm offers another four platters themed around the charcuterie of France, Span and Italy. Of note, is the final platter, a seafood offering with smoked salmon and marlin, tataki, cured seabass and taramasalata. They all come in a choice of small and large sizes.


But for me, the absolute highlight is its steaks, particularly the Beef Tasting Platter. At $108, it is a hefty serving of three steaks — 300g USDA New York striploin, 200g Australian rib-eye and 250g French bavette d’aloyau. It is good enough for three to share. The steaks are perfectly cooked, all nice and juicy, with low, deep rich flavours with slight charring, rounded caramelising and a hint of the grill. Served together, it’s a delicious exercise in exploring the variety of flavours and textures of the different cuts. Needless to say, it is incredible value too.

New York Striploin

Beyond that, the grill also offers a selection of very attractively priced meat dishes — a 300g rib-eye goes at $56, a 400g New York striploin enough for two is priced at $90, and a 900g tomahawk steak is $160 which feeds 2-3.

For desserts, have the chocolate hazelnut pizza ($24) which is good for sharing, and the apple tartin ($14) with calvados ice cream. If you prefer cheeses, Ash & Elm has a very respectable selection of European options. You can customise a platter of three to five cheese, starting from $24.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Pizza

Incidentally, the restaurant has just rolled out a good semi-buffet lunch menu where appetisers and desserts are on the buffet while main course is a la carte from a menu of five options. The appetiser and dessert buffet ($38++) is enough for most light eaters: load up on the charcuterie and cheeses, the flatbreads and plethora of salads, including a good pumpkin and beetroot salad. The soups, I’m afraid, were forgettable. Desserts are good. If you’re going for the three course option ($48++) which includes the main course, get the striploin with creamy polenta which turned out a pretty large and juicy serving. It makes for excellent value, too.

Level 1, InterContinental Singapore
80 Middle Road
Singapore 188966
Tel: (65) 6825 1008