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)

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6 Sumptuous Afternoon Teas To Tuck Into In Hong Kong

If the tai tai life is what you are after in Hong Kong or if it just means that you have the perfect excuse to sit down and refuel after that fast and furious shopping trip with your girlfriends at one of Hong Kong’s many seasonal sales then Afternoon Tea is just the meal that you don’t want to miss out on … here are 6 lovely locations where you can book your table now …

The Langham’s Honey Afternoon Tea

… is a collaboration between The Langham Hotel in TST and beauty brand Guerlain who have launched a few new products that incorporate royal jelly and honey as part of their Abeille Royale Collection.

The Hotel’s Honey Afternoon Tea is served on a unique honeycomb stand and features honey from an organic bee farm in Hong Kong. Sweet morsels include The Bee, a golden macaron filled with dark chocolate and honey nectar, Chocolate, a mini tartlet made with salty caramel, honey ganache and milk chocolate and Honeycomb, an Earl Grey crémeux, honey and orange jelly, topped with chunks of homemade honeycomb and sprinkles of gold dusted white chocolate pearls. The spread also features Mango and honey mousse, a French Mille-feuille with honey cream infused with vanilla and yuzu. Not just sweet, but also savoury, there is a delicious Lavender-infused Honey Glazed Duck Breast, Cucumber and Cheddar Cheese Sandwiches and a Norwegian Smoked Salmon Dome Stuffed with Crab Salad on Corn Bread. On top of everything, there is a selection of exquisite afternoon tea blends to go with the food, the comfort of the lovely ambience of one of Hong Kong’s classiest tea lounges where you can just sink into the forever of their plush and lovely sofas and just spend all having a chi chi afternoon catch up.

Available at The Palm Court Lobby Lounge from NOW till end 30 September 2017 at HK$348 for one person and HK$598 for two persons, subject to a 10 per cent service charge

Served: Weekdays from 3:00 to 5:30 pm and on weekends and public holidays in two sittings, from 2:15 – 4:15 p.m., and 4:30 – 6:30 p.m
Call: (852) 2132 7898

 

The Cakery’s Guilt Free Afternoon Tea

Is there such a thing as a guilt free afternoon tea? Well, for those with a conscience, step into The Cakery. Owner, Shirley Kwok serves up a 100% gluten free tea that uses natural, nutrient- rich ingredients like brown rice flour, tapioca flour, millet flour, almond flour, buckwheat flour, oat flour and Arrowroot flour to create the pastries on her special menu. All her sweets are also made with low-sugar or refined-sugar free, and there are vegetarian and vegan items featured.

Presented beautifully on a fan-shaped three-tiered sleek white tray, find Truffle Chouquettes which is an Italian truffle cream cheese mousse with gluten-free choux pastry, Mini Pizzas made with sweet potato, baby corn, red onion, mushroom, parmesan cheese, tomato sauce, Lobster Crepes featuring US lobster galette, cream cheese, gluten-free crepe, Salmon and Cream Cheese Sandwiches made with gluten-free vegan chia bread. The sweets include Bite-size Cupcakes except that these are gluten-free and/or dairy- free, egg-free, low-sugar and low-fat. There are also Lemon Tarts made with gluten-free pastry and White Chocolate Goji Berry Mousse Pots and Mini Chia Puddings, Gluten-free Scones served with homemade strawberry raspberry basil jam, clotted cream. Enjoy all that with homemade Red Date & Goji Berry Tea or a Ginger Spice Tea or The Cakery’s Tea and Organic Coffee selection and go home guilt-free (well, almost!)

Available at The Cakery Lee Gardens Two, from NOW at HK$388 (per set for two persons)

Extras: Make a booking a day in advance and get a 10% discount.

Served: Daily from 2.30pm to 6.00pm daily, subject to 10% service charge.

Call: (852) 2816 1838

 

Yeh! Shanghai Afternoon Tea at The W Hotel’s Woo Bar

Here’s a promising mini food tour around Shanghai whilst you are in Hong Kong at the W Hotel’s WOOBAR! Their Afternoon High Tea has a Shanghainese theme and the Yeh! Shanghai tea set starts with delicious morsels of crispy suckling pig, fermented bean curd paste and caviar, transferring you to a traditional Chinese BBQ restaurant, however only for a second before you move onto succulent seafood treats such as the prawn cocktail with light spicy sesame soya sauce and sago.  Not just savouries but also sweets, the set includes black sesame dumpling with white sesame tuile and chocolate and cinnamon croissant twist.  The favourite item being their signature “Xiao long BAO” – a cake consisting of vanilla-pistachio mousse, raspberry jam on feuilletine.  On weekends, expect an Afternoon Tea Buffet spread.

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Drink’s wise, the Hotel is not just stopping at a simple cup of Chinese tea but has used the Chinese inspiration of four flowers, each representing four different seasons with the Chrysanthemum representing Autumn in its beverages and alcoholic drinks. There are concoctions like The Qipao, a fresh blend of Belvedere Vodka, Lemon juice, Chrysanthemum tea and a unique blend of Osmanthus syrup, The Shanghai Pour, served in an oriental teapot and cup with a mixture of Chinese white wine, The Wild Flower, a fresh combination of egg white, lemon juice, gin with a Yuzu paste flavour or The Pearl, perfect for the whisky and date lovers.

AvailableNOW to 31 October 2017 at The Woobar at The W Hotel

Served: An Afternoon Tea Set is served on Monday – Friday (except public holidays) from 2:30pm at $418 + 10% for two whilst an Afternoon Tea buffet is served on Saturday and Sunday including public holidays from 2:30pm – 5:30pm at $330 + 10% per person. Cocktails are priced at $140+10%

Call: (852) 37172889

 

‘The history of Whoo’ Afternoon Tea at The Intercontinental

If you are into Korean culture, cosmetics and food, the Lobby Lounge at the Intercontinental has also partnered with premium Korean skincare brand, ‘The history of Whoo’, to launch an Afternoon Tea Set that is all about consuming ingredients that preserve one’s beauty and prevent ageing, all inspired by Korean royal court beauty secrets which kind of reminds me of a throw back to that immensely popular K-drama, ‘Jewel In The Palace’ some years back.

Their Afternoon tea is both savoury and sweet so there are items like Ginseng chicken rolls, an Angelica slow cooked Pork belly on brioche bread and a Comfit Foie Gras and goji berry chutney on crispy bread, served alongside pastry items like the Whoo Macaroon, a Calvados Jelly Apple Pie, Almond Cream, Tea Cakes, Panna Cottas and Scones.

Available at The Intercontinental Hotel’s Lobby Lounge 18 Sep to 30 November 2017

Served: There is a Weekday Afternoon Tea set at $608 for 2 persons (Monday to Friday) and a Weekend Afternoon Tea Set at $628 for 2 persons (Saturday, Sunday & Public Holidays)

Extras: The Tea Set is inclusive of two special ‘The history of Whoo’ Bichup Royal Anti-aging Kits (valued at $500 each) plus two gift cards with special offers for products at “The history of Whoo” shop in Harbour City. Beauty afficianados who bought items at ‘The history of Whoo’ with a receipt can also enjoy 20% off of the Afternoon Tea Set for 2 persons.

Alongside this, the Hotel has arranged a series of Korean Handicraft Workshops on how to make simple Korean style accessories like Dried Flower Bracelets on Friday, Sept 22, October 27 and November 24  and a Korean Knots Workshop on Friday, Oct 13 and Nov 10. Details here.

Call: (852) 2721 1211

 

A Van Cleef & Arpels Nature-Inspired Tea at The Peninsula

With a new boutique just opened at the iconic Peninsula Hotel’s Arcade, jewelry brand Van Cleef & Arpels have gone the extra mile to commemorate the occasion by launching a high tea that aims to serve up a range of treats that is almost as exquisite as the jewelry they sell.

Presented on a silver platter, there are fruit tarts like the Lemon and Basil, Chocolate Tarts with Milk Chocolate Chantilly, apricot macarons, a mango and passionfruit choux that reflects the brand’s 3D heart shaped petals in their collection and savouries like the nicoise salad, croquet monsieur, smoked salmon rolls with lemon cress and carrot bread and the Pen’s all time favourites, the dill-marinated cucumber sandwiches and their freshly baked scones with organic strawberry jam and clotted cream.

AvailableNOW till 30 September 2017 at The Peninsula’s Lobby Lounge

Served:  Daily from 2pm to 6pm at $388 per person or $688 for 2 persons. Champagne is at an extra $220 per glass. Each table gets a Van Cleef & Arpels notebook from their iconic Frivole jewelry collection, evoked by enchanting blooms (whilst stocks last)

Call: (852) 2920 2888

 

Afternoon Tea with Cody The Red Panda at The Cordis

If your kids are coming to tea with you over the weekend, then tea with Cody, The Red Panda at The Cordis Hotel, is an absolute MUST! Cody is the Cordis Hotel’s red panda mascot and he is a hit with the youngsters and will be hanging out at The Place every weekend and on public holidays during the Hotel’s Afternoon Tea Buffet.

He is endangered as red pandas are, so make sure that the time with Cody is well spent and make it an educational experience for your young ones by visiting the booth at the buffet that explains what is being done to protect the red panda. Each child at the buffet will receive a red panda backpack with different Cody themed goodies. There are activities for the kids including handicraft sessions for kids to turn some of the hotel’s recyclables into toys and a colouring contest with attractive prizes. Kids can take pictures with Cody or pick up a plush toy where proceeds go towards the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation to support wildlife conservation including the preservation of red pandas and their habitats.

Cody is a particularly generous guy so kids aged 6 years or below are invited to enjoy the buffet for free. The buffet is tailor made and filled with kids’ favourite tea time items, including Cheese Spring Rolls, BBQ Chicken Drumsticks, and Pan-seared Japanese Pork Sausages, delicious desserts including assorted Cody-shaped Cookies, Blood Orange Cody Mousse Cake, and Cody Cupcakes. Kids are also invited to make their own crepes and puffs. One of the most comprehensive tea buffets available, find Pineapple Chicken Salad, Melon Salad with Shrimp, Salmon Sashimi, Snapper Sashimi, California Maki Roll, Deep Fried Shrimp Toast, Scrambled Egg with Black Truffle Paste, Wok Fried Korean Fish Cake, Korean Dumplings with Vegetable Broth, Japanese Soup Noodles, Indian Vegetarian Curry, Hong Kong Dim Sums, Coffee Opera Cake, American Cheesecake, Strawberry Panna Cotta, Mövenpick Ice Cream and more on the menu.

Available16 September till 15 October 2017 at The Place, The Cordis Hotel at Langham Place, Mongkok at $248 for Adults and $198 for Kids and Seniors.

Served on weekends and public holidays from 16 September to 15 October 2017

Extras: Each Cordis Kid will receive a red panda backpack with different Cody themed goodies. They can also join the complimentary handicraft session to turn some of the hotel’s recyclable into toys. Each adult can bring up to 2 children, 6 years and under for free.

Call: (852) 3552 3028

 

3 Hidden Foodie Gems of Hanoi

Since I have already written about the street food in Hanoi and its coffee joints, I might as well add a third — of three miscellaneous eateries all worth a visit.

The first and my favourite is Kem Trang Tien (35 Trang Tien), the oldest ice cream shop in Hanoi, and still going strong. After a hair-raising cyclo ride, weaving a hair’s breath away from oncoming cars, Trang, our trusty guide, stopped us at this local institution for a treat.

Located near the Opera House and a short trot from the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, it has little aesthetics to speak of and plenty of empty, sometimes greasy, open space. Two counters inexplicably far apart stood in the corners of this odd looking shop, one selling ice cream lollies on a stick, and another soft serve ice cream on a cone.

Trang explained that the shop was designed so that customers could drive all the way into the shop and up to the counter on the scooters and motor bikes, and buy the ice cream without once having to get off their vehicles. Hence the weird empty spaces within. What’s surprising too is that the shop becomes especially busy in winter when people enjoy the ice cream the most.

Kem Trang Tien makes their own ice creams in local Vietnamese flavours and sells nothing but. The ice lollies were recommended over the soft serve. Forget the chocolate flavour and go for the taro or coconut, or better yet, the glutinous rice ice cream or the mung bean. The rice ice cream made use of newly harvest grains, which exuded a subtle, fresh, green flavour with a slight, pleasing stickiness to it; the mung bean was lovely too – softly nutty, subtle and aromatic. Really good.

Another local favourite is Xoi Yen (35 Nguyen Huu Huan), a perpetually busy coffee shop on a street corner that is festooned with a great tangle of overhead electric cables. There is no enticing facade to speak of; it is entirely dominated by a messy open kitchen from where xoi xeo, its famous dish of glutinous turmeric rice, mung beans and fried shallots is prepared.

You’ll find the locals eating at the low tables along the walkway, but there is seating upstairs too if you want a more leisurely meal. Little English is spoken here, so it’s best to have a local friend help you along. As for the food, simple as it sounds, it is very tasty; add on an order of chicken or pork if you are particularly hungry. Locals flock here for breakfast as well as a quick lunch, and is quite an institution.

The final recommendation on my list of three is Koto Restaurant (59 Van Mieu Street). This can be accused of being touristy, but it deserves mention for the cause it supports — it is a not-for-profit restaurant that acts as a hospitality school for disadvantaged young Vietnamese.

Located near the Temple of Literature, the four-storey restaurant was crowded with mainly expats and tourists, but enjoyed ourselves here, with good food and very decent, inexpensive cocktails. We ordered the Vietnamese set menu and had a veritable feast — the banana flower and chicken salad, spring rolls, banana leaf grilled fish, and sweet and sour clam soup with pineapples and tomatoes were memorable. We added an order of banh xeo as well (truly delightful), and a stream of decently done classic cocktails, including two glasses of most enjoyable margarita.

The Market Grill at Telok Ayer

Had lunch with some friends at The Market Grill just this week. It’s always a treat to head down to Telok Ayer, which has become Singapore’s ‘gourmet central’ with the opening of many hip eateries there over recent months. Market Grill itself is not new, but this is the first time in ages that it has rolled out new offerings on its menu.

We had a corner table in the narrow pre-war shophouse restaurant. The setting is predictable — noisy, close-quarter seating and open kitchen seem to be the pre-requisites of a hip restaurant these days. Pity we couldn’t hear the music until the restaurant emptied out after 2pm. It was lots of rock and 1980-1990 hits that are, admittedly, quite my time. All around us was an edgy industrial-meets-retro decor including vintage bar stools. It made us feel ‘cool’.

On to the food. The Market Grill, as its name suggests, is mainly known to be a carnivorous place. But also for its lobsters. Our meal took a lighter direction.

First up, was chargrilled artichokes with an anchovy sauce, which was nice but a little dry.

Then came the best lamb koftas ($19) I’ve had in ages. Crisp fine batter on the outside, and juicy, smooth minced lamb inside with light touch of spices, and served with an enticingly piquant dish of pickled beetroot and the same anchovy dip. (It’s not easy to find good koftas, which tend to be dry, gristly and grainy oftentimes.) Godzilla-sized mussels came after that, served in a pot with seafood bisque and baguette. The mussels were pillow-tender despite their colossal size, but a tad briny in flavour.

I really liked the main course of grilled seafood platter (market price). The whole Atlantic  lobster was incredibly fresh, with delightfully firm, sweet flesh; the chargrilled seabass was good too. There was considerable charring outisde, but the white flesh inside remained moist and flaky. For dessert, we had the fromage blanc ($12), a light cheesecake-like slice delicately sweet, served with fruits, granola and candied nuts for a lovely counterpoint.

Good to note: Wines by the glass here are limited — one choice only for bubbles, white and red. The rest are by bottles but prices are decent. Also noteworthy, they serve lobster rolls ($48) if you’re in the mood.

208 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068642
Tel: 6221 3323

A Great Reason to Return to Mount Faber

I haven’t been up to Mount Faber for over a decade. Most of us think of it as a tourist spot with nothing much to see. But I was invited up there recently and out of sheer curiosity and little expectations, I went. As a journalist, I always keep an open mind. And as it turned out, I’m glad I did.

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Driving up the narrow, winding lane to Mount Faber, I realise I had forgotten how pleasant it actually was. The higher up I wound, the more I felt I was on holiday. The rainy weather even added to the sense of chill, no pun intended.

It had changed a lot from the last time I saw it. The building was the same, the cable cars were ….well, the same but the restaurant up on the second floor was different. Spuds & Aprons had a welcoming, casual feel that made you feel totally relaxed. Built sympathetically around two massive rain trees, and open on the sides, the restaurant offered a really spectacular view of the harbourfront and Sentosa, while it let all the cool breeze in.

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Now, I’ll be honest….you have to forgive the name of the restaurant. The name Spuds & Aprons sounds corny and doesn’t fit with the holiday feel of the setting. But once you get beyond that — a rose by any other name, etc…. — you’ll find a charming, laid back restaurant. One one side is the view, on the other, a pretty little garden for the kids to run around or to have a drink fully alfresco. If you want to get away from the crowds, this must be on your list.

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The food makes for easy eating. We started with sweet potato fries with curry mayo, and potato skins filled with a rather mild chilli crab. The two potato dishes were both crispy on the outside, fluffy and hot in the middle, and the potato skins still bore a generous margin of flesh. Nice.

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Mains was all right. The signature roast pork belly ($27) sounded extremely promising, but the meat turned out dry, and the crackling a bit hard, even if it was actually pretty crisp. The flavour was good though. The chef was away that afternoon, so perhaps it was one of those days….The mixed rice served on the side was very good though — absolutely flavourful and moist. I could eat that as a main course. The duck confit ($26) looked dry outside but the meat was moist and nicely done, but a little under-seasoned.

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Best of the lot was the oven roasted cod topped with tobiko with green tea soba ($32). The presentation was a little messy, and there was a bit too much sauce, but the large portion of fish was nicely done, flaked moistly and the tobiko topping gave a lovely counterpoint to it.

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Our lunch ended with two positively divine desserts. The cempadak bread and butter pudding a la mode ($12) was aromatic, just sweet enough, soft and warm, made with croissants rather than bread, topped with shaved almonds and dusted with icing sugar. The fruit was particularly fragrant in this dessert and whiffs of its aroma just whaffed out as you sank your spoon into it.

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The other was the Jar of Happiness ($11). The name may be just too corny, but the contents of the jar was a fantastic, gooey combination of vanilla ice cream, berries, shortbread cookies at the bottom and salted caramel. Simple but wicked. Yes, it did make me rather happy.

What caught my eye on the menu was the very extensive variety of drinks, including a truck load of non-alcoholic concoctions, from smoothies and shakes to mocktails and even a pop-corn centred range of lattes. All were very attractively priced. Here’s a list to give you an idea: Chunky munchies soda with nata d’coco bomb ($8) which I tried — a refreshing combi of soda, passionfruit syrup, nata de coco, jellied pearls, and other nice stuff. Chocolate popcorn latte ($6) comprising chocolate ganache, popcorn syrup, milk, expresso and popcorn (I have yet to try this); match azuki latte. Cocktails by the glass (mostly between $14-$16) or jug ($50-$56) are abundant, alcoholic shakes ($14) included, martini bomb-jellos ($15), and even Singapore Sling in three flavours of original, lychee and yuzu for the sweet-toothed alky-head. The menu is also high on spirits, and good range of beers and ciders, and lots of wines (mostly $12-$13 per glass).

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Prices here are very good value. Apart from the a la carte menu, I noticed on close inspection of the menu that they offer ‘combos’. For two people, you pay $70 and get one starter, two mains and 1 dessert, all chosen from a smaller menu which offers a decent choice for each course. For four people, you can opt for one starter, four mains and two desserts at $120. If you were a small family dining, this is very good value.

All in all, Spuds & Aprons (please forgive the name) is a destination restaurant well worth making the trip for. It is not arduous at all if you have a car. If not, take the cable car from harbourfront as a pre-meal treat. This place is perfect for the family on weekends, for a drink with friends in the evening after work and the tourists have faded away, and a great place to bring grandparents for an airing and a touch of nostalgia. (The restaurant is wheelchair-friendly as the floor is all on one plane. Take the lift from the main entrance at road level if stairs are a problem). Also with the extensive park around, this is nice for a jog followed by much deserved food and drink afterwards.

For me, I took a cable car joyride after that. It’s been ages since I last got on one of these and forgot how enjoyable and peaceful it was up there – especially when I had the whole cable car to myself.

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Good to know: Valet service is available at the entrance of Faber Peak, the building where this restaurant is located. It’s free if you spend over $50, and that’s pretty easy to do. Also, their toilet, aptly called Peek-a-Loo, probably has the best view for any toilet in Singapore. Don’t miss seeing it.

Restaurant Review: Orchid Live Seafood for a 1970s Experience

The daughter had spent the morning measuring and studying horseshoe crabs with the Singapore Nature Society on Sunday a couple weeks ago. After picking her up at the Kranji mud flats, we were in the mood to do some ‘rural lunching’ ourselves, especially dressed as we were not for high end restaurants. Made a phone call to Orchid Live Seafood Restaurant and luckily they had space for three.

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We’ve been there a few times before and it has never disappointed. Located at Green Valley Farms, the first nursery along Bah Som Pah Road, it is a complete kampong, back-to-the-70s experience. There’s no aesthetics whatsoever, and I’m not sure if I saw a signage at its front entrance. But it’s one of those places you are assured of good food, and the prices are equally palatable.

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The star of the menu is the lobster porridge, made Teochew style — the rice is still whole and swimming in a sea of soup. In this style the stock is extremely important as it carries the flavour of the dish. Here it comes in a massive claypot with four lobsters, halved, cooked in it. They put it aside on a plate when they portioned out the porridge. The Boston lobsters were very fresh and the flesh nicely cooked and sweet. They were caught from the tank outside the restaurant minutes before. The porridge itself was good, rice quite tender, and the soup was really flavourful. Eaten together with the lobster and other dishes that came, we surprised ourselves by finishing the entire vat.

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We had ordered the ‘Buddy Set’ menu at $118 for three. This included another of the restaurant’s star dish Steven Chicken, created by their chef, and deep fried, coated in a sweet tangy caramelised sauce. Combined with the crispness of the chicken and the moist flesh, it was excellent. Perfect with chilled beer on a hot afternoon.

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The chilli mussels (or what we Teochews would call ‘dua tao’) came in way too much sauce but it was cooked just right, nicely tender and bouncy, and  the sauce nicely balanced, slightly hot. It’s yet another signature dish here. Happily there was no grit in the mussels nor bits of broken shell, which sometimes plague such a dish. The sambal potato leaves we ordered was the only disappointment, as the leaves were old and fibrous. If not for that, it would have been a good one too. Dessert is old fashioned red bean potong ice cream hauled out from the freezer at the front door.  I hear the cold crab, a Teochew delicacy, is worth trying here. That’s going down on my list for the next visit.

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The charm with Orchid Live Seafood restaurant is its retro flavour. The carpark is a pitted concrete space up front which reminds me of the old restaurants of the early 70s when I was a kid. Cars just park wherever they find a space on the uneven ground. On the side, you’ll see old tyres and the odd swing amid weeds and greenery left to grow wild. At the restaurant, the bulk of the tables are al fresco under a wood-framed canvas canopy – again a totally ’70s set up. On cool evenings, that would make a fun place for dinner. (Positively broiling there in the afternoons.)

While they seem quite laid back, these guys are very proactive and even have several Father’s Day set menus going on. Service is polite and prompt too. Call ahead for reservations first, and it’s best to go with a larger group. (Orchid Live Seafood has another branch at Jln Kelutut, but this is where you go for the rural experience.) Highly recommended!!

1 Bah Soon Pah Rd, Singapore 769959
Tel: 67560311

Restaurant Review: Humpback, For Oysters, Cocktails & Clever Combinations

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Singapore’s ever growing stable of hip restaurants all seem to follow a predictable formula: a pre-war shophouse in a hip neighbourhood, an on-trend menu that reads like a grocery list, a small range of informed and potent cocktails, a young but competent chef putting his spin on food, and wait staff dressed in black, some with a handy wisecrack of two.

Most of these places will not disappoint — you’ll have a pretty good meal there, have some gastronomic surprises tossed your way, and for that time, feel you’re really with it. You’ll likely feel the pinch of the bill later, but this is Singapore so you’ve anticipated that and you’re becoming numb to it anyway.

In two weeks’ time, you may have forgotten what you ate there while you hunt for the next happening place to haunt, but not before you’ve posted pictures of your dinner on Instagram. It’s not because the food or experience was bad. Just that Singapore’s food scene is overflowing with really good restaurants, and it’s increasingly tough for restaurant to stand out head and shoulders above the considerable competition.

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Humpback is one such restaurant. It is a good restaurant, like many of the others in Singapore, but by and large it is formulaic. However I do remember two things distinctly. It’s big on oysters which sell for low as $2 a piece on Monday evenings – which means reservations are essential on Mondays — and the grilled cabbage with herby cheese and quinoa ($10) is a touch of genius, and infinitely more tasty than it sounds.

The latest restaurant by the people behind Jigger & Pony and Sugarhall, Humpback’s big attraction is its steady stream of fresh briny oysters harvested from the world’s oceans. Indeed, the day to enjoy is Mondays when it goes at an affordable $2 per piece, which packs in oyster lovers. But if, like me, you aren’t a fan, there’s enough on the menu to tantalise. The dishes by Executive Chef Polo Seah are clever, modern concoctions that intrigue and surprise with its very original combination of flavours. Most were hits to me, except for the clam dip with ritz crackers. Sorry that just didn’t fly with me.

Kale, buttermilk, pear, kale chips pecan nuts - Copy

Get the intriguing kale ($14) – a mix of fresh and dehydrated kale, with creamy buttermilk dressing and a sprinkling of pecan nuts and a juicy contrast of pear slivers. The humble cabbage ($10) turned out the star of the dinner — elevated to a hip and intriguing dish. First brined, baked, then grilled, it was savoury, a little nutty, with crispy quinoa, herbed cheese and chilli oil. A touch of genius indeed with its unpredictable combination of ingredients that worked excellently together.

Loved the bigeye tuna with avocado and a refreshing, intense, uplifting cucumber granita, and the snow crab with orzo, squash and parmigiano ($23) for all its sweet, comforting flavours and textures. The mangalica pork was the most classic in taste, with chestnuts, cauliflower and a tangy touch of cranberry.

Rainbow Trout, egg yolk, almond milk, topped with pickled mustard seeds. - Copy

The menu changes pretty frequently but these dishes give an idea of what to expect from Chef Seah. My bet though is that the cabbage is still available.

Drinks aren’t cheap here, starting from $16 a glass. But since the pedigree of Humpback is Jigger & Pony, one of the best bars in Singapore, I’d put my money on the cocktails instead. You can expect them to mirror the high quality of J&P. I started with the light and fruity jasmine and pear G&T, then ended with the heady, spirit forward drunken monkey (scotch, chartreuse and curacao). Nice.

Good to know: Happy hour 5-7pm daily, where oysters range from $2-$3 each. Those happy hour prices stretch through all Monday night though.

18/20 Bukit Pasoh Road,
Singapore 089834
Tel: 6750 4461
#HumpbackSG