Bread and butter pudding @ Stuttgart Blackforest Boutique S-Cafe

Bread and butter pudding (or more appropriately, bread and butter pud) is one of those winter warmers that will never go out of fashion. To be fair it was probably never in fashion in the first place, but it certainly played a central role in satisfying the insatiable appetite for sweetness amongst British children. We used to get it everywhere: at school, at home, at our friend’s homes, at our relatives homes, at pretty much any home that would grant us entry. Whilst it may be a stupefyingly simple dessert – bread, butter, milk, sugar, eggs, and maybe a raisin or two (it’s really not rocket science) – it’s also one not to be messed with. It has a childhood innocence to it that is part of its DNA, its raison d’être.

Of course, the best B&B puds are home-made (preferably by your mother or, better still, grandmother), but it’s always interesting to see how others do theirs. It was for this reason – and this reason alone – that I dragged Mika along to the rather absurd Stuttgart Blackforest Cafe on Middle Road last Sunday. I had already recced the site and checked the menu. Sausages, sausages, sausages, and bread and butter pudding. Deal, sealed. Call me a bit naive, but I went with expectations that were higher than they probably should have been. Why? Because 1) it’s been a while since my last B&B pud, and 2) the Blackforest Cafe appeared to be rather authentically Germanic, which I thought was a good thing. ‘Thought’ being the operative word here, not ‘knew’.

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Cold bread and butter pudding with ice cream

Just to get things straight from the outset, despite my (fairly impeccable, not to say unprecedented) levels of preparation, the one thing that undermined the whole experience was that of misrepresentation. The menu claim of “Warm bread and butter pudding with custard” (SGD 10+GST+service) was what captured my attention in the first place, not cold bread and butter pudding with ice cream. Semantics this is not – the difference between the two dishes is nothing less than biblical.

Now I’m not sure if this is a British vs. European (Kirschenmichel) thing, or perhaps an authenticist vs. Singapore imitationist thing, but B&B pud should never, ever be served cold. Ever. Even if it’s 150 degrees outside (or inside, for that matter), I expect it to be served piping hot. With custard, not watery and flavourless ice cream. The last time I ate a B&B pud was at the Fairmont Hotel, where it was served warm for tea, with hot vanilla sauce. Not perfect, but (free and) a million miles better than having it cold with ice cream. Ice cream! To think I actually paid money for such a disservice.

Clearly we were off to a bad start. The mind and the mouth formed an axis of resentment that only a miracle could surmount. It failed. A victory of perception over ‘trying something new’. With every bite I couldn’t erase from my mind the image of a cold, sweet pâté quivering on the fork. A coagulated bloc of rubbery Germanic cold cuts interspersed with bland slices of apple, flavourless raisins and anaemic almonds. All of them unnecessary, all of them doing little more than filling space.

The main problem with this dessert was that it attempted sophistication in a way that ignored the basic beauty of the recipe. There was no crust, no textures to play with. No depth, no blanketing comfort of warm, coddling, sweetened dairy. No gentle spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anything), no aroma. Just cold, hard sweetness on a plate. It was as contrived as the young Singaporean male sitting behind us, shovelling heaps of wurst and sauerkraut into his mouth using a conjoined fork+knife lifting action. It was misplaced and a bit embarrassing, and ignored the fact that B&B pud appeals to the infant, the pleb, the shameless unsophisticant in all of us. It’s at its best when at its most basic, not its most bastardised. And that’s exactly why this one fell short of das mark.

Stuttgart Blackforest Boutique S-Cafe
141 Middle Road, #01-01 GSM Building
6336 8675
shop@scafe.com.sg
Website
Facebook

See also:
The Guardian’s view on how to make the perfect bread and butter pudding!
Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow’s review
Blankets and Coffee’s review

Bishan Vegetarian @ Bishan Bus Interchange

Call me parochial, but I find that there is something strangely exciting about eating in a “Bus Interchange”. It brings to mind images of great road trips across the US (that I have, of course, never taken), or of the Australian outback. Like a last bastion of civilisation to stock up and refuel before embarking on another 500 miles or so of rumbling into the wilderness. Given that Bishan is essentially the bullseye of Singapore, it’s not quite the outpost that I have in mind. And besides, this is Singapore. Reality bites.

But still, Bishan Bus Interchange is a transient and industrious location that I actually rather like. It helps that its food court is located on Level 2, in a gallery that sort of enables you to look down, emperor-like, on the teeming masses below. Or, more accurately, on the back door of Junction 8 shopping mall. But still, it’s a rather unique vantage point that cannot be found in the average food court, coffee shop, hawker centre or other such culinary commune.

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Bishan Vegetarian @ Bishan Bus Interchange

The motivation behind my visit to BBI was actually to go to Food For Life – a newish place that is hell-bent on healthy stuff. Perfect for a well-intentioned Saturday lunch, I thought. But, despite arriving during the latter-stages of lunch, the stall wasn’t yet ready and the food was still being prepared. At 1pm? Whatever the opposite of kiasu is, Food For Life appears to be it.

Thankfully there is one other vegetarian option available at BBI – the dazzlingly well-named “Bishan Vegetarian”. It’s as industrious as Food For Life is lackadaisical, with a team of 4-5 people manning (and womanning) the kitchen and counter. Everyone seemed to be chopping, washing, frying or serving – a sight that warmed the capitalist cockles of my vegetarian heart.

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Dry noodle

I thought that the dry noodle (SGD 3.20) was rather blandly named, especially seeing as it looked a lot like wanton mee from the picture. And on the surface, there was nothing to suggest that this dish deviated much from its more descriptive namesake. Sweet and tangy (and quite delicious) char siew, some crispy deep-fried squares, peppery egg noodles (that looked scarily like Maggi mee), and some obligatory greens. All rather innocuous and, dare I say it, rather tasty. And just look at that wedge of sweetcorn in the soup – what largesse!

But dig below the surface, and things were not as they appeared. At the base of the bowl lay lurking a not insignificant layer of thick and sweet tomato sauce. This was a first for me, and hopefully a last as well. Once mixed with the other ingredients, it dominated the flavours and caused everything to turn a bit sweet, a bit slimey, a bit red, a bit weird. I suppose it was quite original, but still. Weird.

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Curry (l) and pumpkin (r) buns

Alongside the usual array of rice plates and noodle bowls, Bishan Vegetarian stands apart for offering a fairly decent array of snacking options as well. Said options include dim sum, steamed buns and various rice noodle-type-stuff (a la chee cheong fun). Such up-selling is relatively rare in Singapore’s eateries, and I immediately jumped at the chance to punctuate my dry noodles with a tasty little afterthought. If everyone that visits Bishan Vegetarian is as spontaneous (or just as greedy) as I, then this place must be raking it in.

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Curry bun

The curry bun (SGD 1.20) was bursting at the seam, although unfortunately this was more a reflection of its shoddy construction than its overly generous filling. The filling itself was dry and spicy. Very dry, and very spicy. So dry that it made even me want to lubricate it with some sort of sauce, and so spicy that a more apt name would have been “chilli bun” (or, perhaps, “dry and spicy chilli bun”). A bit like how “weird noodles” would have befitted the above.

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Pumpkin bun

The pumpkin bun (also SGD 1.20) sat squarely on the sweet-savoury fence and was, in a word, delicious. It was handsomely big, appropriately coloured, and nicely seasoned with black sesame seeds and what appeared to be some sort of chewy bean to complement the pumpkin. Fantastic. The only problem was its relentless tackiness – it clung to its paper base, to my fingers, and to my teeth with fiendish persistence. Not necessarily a bad thing of course, as at least it allowed me to savour it long after I had dispatched the last bite to the darkest confines of my digestive system. All in all, a well-proportioned and well-priced snack that offered a redemptive lift to an otherwise disappointing luncheon.

Bishan Vegetarian
Level 2, Bishan Bus Interchange Food Court, 514 Bishan Street 13
9061 8000
Open daily

See also:
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Chic Vegetarian Cuisine’s review

Veganism and bodybuilding: an alignment

I couldn’t help but notice in The Straits Times the other day that two Singaporean female bodybuilders – Rinn Farina and Sue Suharni – were both awarded gold medals at the World Body Building & Physique Sports Championships in Mumbai. This news first surprised me – Singapore is not really known for its sporting prowess outside of table tennis and badminton – and then reminded me of a video I watched a few months ago. The video is by PETA, and showcases Jim Morris – a vegan bodybuilder who, unbelievably, is 77 (now 78) years old.

Jim’s views on the benefits of veganism from a bodybuilding standpoint are interesting, and clearly put forth. Contrary to the divergence that many people may wrongly assume, there is a clear alignment between veganism and bodybuilding. Indeed, not just bodybuilding, but any sort of body-awareness, discipline and respect. After all, you don’t have to be building your body in order to be in control of it. Such alignment is threefold:

  1. Both veganism and bodybuilding require discipline, mindfulness and body-awareness – in other words, they both require their practitioners to be aware of their bodies, how they feel, and how they respond to various stimuli (notably food and resistance training)
  2. Both veganism and bodybuilding require the careful planning of diet (and exercise) – meal and snack plans are thought about in advance in order to minimise reactive, impulsive eating based on cravings and other mental fallacies (or weaknesses)
  3. Both veganism and bodybuilding require disruptive attitudes and behaviours – it is not good enough to just go with the flow and follow the path of least resistance (or the path into which you are co-opted by your friends or family); both disciplines are about challenging norms, taking control of your mind and body, and working everyday to achieve a higher purpose

Veganism has nothing to do with weakness, femininity or being ‘difficult’. It is about aligning your mind and body with a belief system that enables you to achieve the best possible outcomes for yourself, and for other sentient beings as well. I am not a vegan, nor am I a bodybuilder. But for me the alignment between the two disciplines – and that’s exactly what they are – disciplines, philosophies, value-systems… – is one that is as obvious as it is compelling. The sooner more people realise this, the better.

See also:
Slightly longer (14:28) documentary on Jim Morris by Ryan Vance
Jim Morris’s personal site
The World Bodybuilding & Physique Sports Federation
The Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness website

Eastern Highland Healthy Cake House @ Geylang East Avenue 1

Somewhat shamefully, never before have I frequented a purely vegetarian (or, for that matter, vegan) bakery. It’s probably because I have difficulty in seeing the point in them – what is the market, and where is the demand? Nonetheless, in a bid to mollify my ignorance I decided to give Eastern Highland Healthy Cake House a shot. Sandwiched between Kwan Inn Vegetarian and a string (of two) shops selling Buddhist artefacts, it is well-positioned to capture the eyes and minds of the meat-free mavens of Geylang. EHHCH claims to be “Fully vegetarian, No egg”. A halfway house between vegetarianism and veganism, it evokes an image of a Venn diagram that draws meaning from the mandala. Right?

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Eastern Highland Healthy Cake House

Despite arriving quite late (9pm or so), it was still open and worryingly well-stocked. Lots of variety, and it was actually quite difficult to choose one thing over another. The owner did seem particularly keen to flog us an elaborately decorated Christmas log cake for SGD 4.50. Clearly Christian (or perhaps just social) affectations are not lost on what I can only assume to be a predominantly Buddhist clientele.

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Blueberry and wolfberry bun

The blueberry and wolfberry bun (SGD 1.00) was chosen primarily because of the sheer quantity that had been produced. They were found in crate upon lonely crate at the entrance of the bakery. Goodness knows who eats these things, and why so many had been baked. If I hadn’t been told it contained blueberries (or wolfberries), it would just have been a salty white roll. It tasted overwhelmingly of flour, and the texture was suitably dry and dusty. Shame, because I actually thought it looked quite nice.

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Banana bread

The banana bread (SGD 1.20) was better, but still nothing to get too worked up about. In terms of texture, it was more light and dry than dense and moist (the hallmark of any decent b-bread). The flavours were muted and, again, a bit salty. At least you could just about taste the banana, which is more than can be said for the blueberry in the bun.

All in all, it would seem that EHHCH is a place for purists – the type of person who is willing to sacrifice all and any semblance of flavour (or even quality, for that matter) for dietary reasons. It’s the kind of place where healthiness seems to correlate with blandness. I can only imagine what the log cake would have tasted like…

Eastern Highland Healthy Cake House
Block 134, Geylang East Avenue 1, #01-227
6746 5580 / 6294 6932
Website
Open 08:00-21:00 daily

See also:
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Veggie Food Hunt’s review
Prefer Vegetarian Food’s review

Kwan Inn Vegetarian Food @ Geylang East Avenue 1

You know you’ve reached the HQ of a multi-outlet vegetarian empire when you get to a food court and it’s nearly completely colonised by just one eatery. Such is the case with Kwan Inn Vegetarian Food in Geylang, anchor tenant of the Kim San Leng Food Centre and parent of the smaller (and noticeably substandard) Queen Street branch. Kwan Inn is a pillar of Geylang’s vegetarian enclave – the stretch of eateries on or off Sims Avenue that is punctuated by Aljunied and Paya Lebar Roads. Included in the enclave are such venerable names as the former Loving Heart, Yes Natural Vegetarian, East Highland Bakery and, of course, Kwan Inn. And go a bit further down the road and you’ll get to VeganBurg. Talk about spoilt for choice – being in this area makes vegetarianism feel sort of mainstream.

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Kwan Inn Vegetarian Food

Kwan Inn’s certainly has all the trappings of a heavyweight vegetarian eatery. Apart from its huge frontage, it has an all-bases-covered menu of Chinese dishes and set meals, uniform-clad servers, and one of those food collection systems where you are given a little black disc that start beeping and vibrating when your food is ready for collection. Impressive. The food court itself is clean and cold – think harsh strip lighting, energetic fans and brutally scrubbed surfaces. It’s a slick operation that relies on its size and efficiency to make up for the relative lack of charm. But enough on the atmospherics, what about the grub?

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Monkey head mushrooms with Sichuan sauce

The monkey head mushrooms (or “chicken cubes” according to the menu) with Sichuan sauce (SGD 8.00) smelt good, looked great and tasted wonderful. Seriously, this dish was the bee’s arms, toes and knees combined into one. Silky and thick sauce that was predominantly smokey, but also had hints of sweetness, pepperiness and spiciness as well. The monkey head mushrooms had a delightful crunch to them, and there were enough to satisfy even the greediest of guts. The backing singers were equally good – celery, red and green peppers, dried red chilli and cashew nuts. This was the smallest sized portion, but i’ll be coming back for the super-sized serving (SGD 16.00) to demolish by myself. Yes, it’s that good.

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Ma po tofu

Au contraire, the ma po tofu (SGD 8.00) was generous in size, and size alone. The sauce was thin and watery, and the spiciness was undermined by the fistful of salt that had apparently been added. What disappointed me most, however, was the evident carelessness in preparing and presenting the tofu. The chunks were impractically large, clumsily cut, and easily disintegrated the with the gentlest of prods with a chopstick. Before long, the dish resembled something like baby food, which had to be hoovered up using a spoon. Not nice, at all.

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Jekyll & Hyde

Perhaps unsurprising given its size and reputation, Kwan Inn struggles with consistency. The highs are high and the lows are low – it’s a balancing act that invariably results in mediocrity. Nonetheless I would still like to go back – to eat more monkey heads, and to find a few more dishes that are worth getting excited about. There are more, I can feel it in my bones.

Kwan Inn Vegetarian Food
Block 134, Geylang East Avenue 1, #01-229, Kim San Leng Food Centre
6842 5550
Open 07:00-22:00 daily; CLOSED on alternate Mondays

See also:
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Moi’s food’s review

Xi Shi Fu Vegetarian @ Bukit Batok Street 31

Bukit Gombak is a surprisingly pleasant little area in the west of Singapore. The changes in elevation certainly help to break up the monotony of the HDBs (“Bukit Gombak” actually translates as something like “a collection of hills” – there are two), as does the abundance of parks and other green spaces. Even the stadium is somewhat picturesque, occupying a fortress-like position on raised ground, with sweeping stone steps that lead up to the entrance. Very evocative.

A stone’s throw from Bukit Gombak MRT station is the Bukit Gombak Neighbourhood Centre, and a hop, skip and a jump inside will get you to Xi Shi Fu Vegetarian. Whilst the BG Neighbourhood Centre looks utterly miserable from the outside (could have been the weather), once you’re inside it’s actually quite charming. Lots of old-fashioned retailers selling all manner of foodstuffs, religious artefacts and clothes. Everything is small-scale and individually owned. The community vibe is strong, and is no doubt helped by the vegetarian virtue that radiates out from Xi Shi Fu. A bit like a spiritual sonar, I would imagine.

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Xi Shi Fu Vegetarian

Xi Shi Fu is located in Block 373, and occupies a rather modest stall space that is defined by a rather large swastika taped to the service counter. A beacon of Chinese vegetarianism if ever there was one. The food took a long time to come, which didn’t bother me in the slightest. Why? Because it was raining heavily and I thought that Little Guilin probably wasn’t going to go anywhere in a hurry, and because slow food generally means freshly cooked food. Which usually means good – or, at least, better – food. No? Yes. Sort of.

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Wanton mee

When it was brought to the table, I thought they had mistaken my wanton mee (SGD 3.00) with another dish. Wanton mee is usually so distinctive, so idiosyncratic in its presentation – shallow oval plate, noodles on top of sauce, ingredients on top of noodles. But not this time. Instead it came in a bowl, everything intermingling with everything else. To say I was ever so slightly put out by this presentational deviation would be an understatement. But I squared my jaw, gripped my chopsticks, and soldiered on.

The colours and flavours were undeniably fresh and vibrant. The sombre green of the kailan, the teasing red of the char siew and the optimistic golden hues of the egg noodles made me think that this was more “Rasta mee” than wanton mee. This observation was not entirely unfounded, for the wantons were entirely lacking (although there were some deep-fried squares of wanton shell to compensate). Not that they were missed that much, for in their place were shiitake mushrooms and another brown-coloured mock meat, both of which were a welcome addition. The kailan was crunchy and the noodles robust, although the char siew lacked a little in terms of character. It felt a bit like there was a freeloader in the bowl, and nobody likes a freeloader.

I must say that whoever had the bright idea of chucking everything in a bowl deserves a medal. Not only did this dish look great, but the bowl created a crescendo of (soy) sauce-defined flavours that really made me think about wanton mee in a different way. Talk about thinking outside the plate… Rasta mee, the dish of the future!

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Fish soup bee hoon

The fish soup bee hoon (SGD 3.70) was presented in a rather more predictable fashion and, generally speaking, underwhelmed. It contained large and (as is always the case) mushy wedges of mock fish, black fungus, some deep fried square stuff (same as the wanton shell), ginger, tomatoes and kailan in a milky and shockingly tasteless broth. Funnily enough, laksa noodles were used instead of bee hoon. It could have benefitted immensely from some (more) ginger or seaweed for flavour. But as it stood, we settled for chilli, glorious chilli.

I like Xi Shi Fu a lot more than I let on… It could be because of the abundance of nature in and around Bukit Gombak, but I felt that XSF was a breath of fresh air. The wanton noodles were really quite good; they were certainly innovative. Especially on a rainy day at the end of November.

Xi Shi Fu Vegetarian
BB373 Food House, Block 373, Bukit Batok Street 31
Open 07:00-13:30 Monday; 07:00-17:30 Tuesday-Sunday

Paneer butter masala @ M.B.S. Restaurant

It is no secret that M.B.S. Restaurant is one of my favourite eateries in Little India, if not Singapore. It’s popular and nicely plugged-in to the world around it. The street-side (or road-side) seating ensures that the energy of the surroundings is ever-present, not least in the food itself. In the food? Yes, in the food: the main reason to keep coming back here. It’s rich and spicy, full of life and pizzazz. And whilst M.B.S. is probably best known for its seafood, it has an all-star list of Indian vegetarian staples on the menu as well (not to mention a full complement of starchy stuff). Last week I had the pleasure of savouring the jewel in M.B.S.’s vegetarian crown – the paneer butter masala.

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Paneer butter masala

The paneer butter masala (SGD 8.00) was – and always is – sublime. It’s smooth and creamy and mouth-wateringly tasty. The sauce is a perfect-yet-simple blend of mellow sweetness and energetic pepperiness – enough sweetness to draw you in, but then enough pepperiness to give the flavours depth and charisma. The intensely aromatic taste of cardamon provides occasional moments of reprieve from the tangy richness of the sauce, whilst perfectly seared chunks of paneer provide a stomach-swelling sense of completeness. A nice visual touch is the little dollop of ghee that sits on the surface of the curry, along with the coriander. Combined with the deep red of the sauce, they provide an alluring juxtaposition of the blanketing richness of fat and the refreshing citrussiness of herbs. Simply wonderful. One of the most soulful curries I have ever eaten in Singapore, without a doubt.

In memoriam

M.B.S. Restaurant
53 Rowell Road (at the junction of Kampong Kapor Road)
6294 9313
mbsglobals@gmail.com
Open 24 hours daily

See also:
Vegetus’s review (#1)

Pine Tree Cafe @ Fortune Centre

Fortune Centre is a slightly bizarre place at the best of times, more so around midday on a Sunday. The second floor – which plays host to the infamous Pine Tree Cafe – becomes eerily quiet and strangely smokey, although that’s most probably the Sunday blurriness speaking. The altogether calmer atmosphere is, dare I say it, fairly pleasant, not least because it encourages an unwavering focus on the food (rather than the peripheral goings on). Indeed, my latest foray into the Scandinavian-sounding world of PTC cemented in my mind the view that this place is one of the best vegetarian eateries in Fortune Centre. With strong and gutsy flavours, it takes the vegetarian bull by the horns and wrestles it onto the plate. Can’t ask for much more than that now, can you?

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Hakka lei cha rice

The Hakka lei cha rice (SGD 6.00) – also known as “thunder tea rice” – looked ominous, like the dark clouds of an impending storm. The green tea soup was much thicker and darker than usual, and looked a lot like sludge. I felt that if (just, if) I was to fall into it, I wouldn’t be able to escape. Not that I would have minded, as it tasted fantastic. Bitter and ballsy, it could easily have been a meal in itself. The roughly chopped ingredients (whole peanuts, pungent salted onions, large cubes of tau kwa, runner beans and other greens) all seemed natural and rustic and, impressively, held their forms and flavours against the blanketing dominance of the soup. Any dish with thunder in the name is a winner, but one that incorporates thunder into its flavours? Now we’re operating at an altogether higher level of gastronomic greatness. Very good.

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Hot pot mushrooms and mock meat with brown rice

The hot pot mushrooms and mock meat with brown rice (SGD 6.00) hissed its way to the table, begging to be eaten. It came with broccoli, cauliflower and shiitake mushrooms, and cubes of mock meat (pork?) that boasted a scarily real layer of gelatinous fat on top. The layer was completely unnecessary, but impressively creative at the same time. The taste of Chinese five spice dominated and, combined with the crackling fire under the pot, evoked wintery flavours and Christmassy feelings. Pine Tree Cafe’s attempt to live up to its name, no doubt!

Pine Tree Cafe
#02-09/13 Fortune Centre, 190 Middle Road
9815 4940
Open 10:00-21:00 daily

See also:
Vegetus’s review (#1)
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Mr and Mrs Vegan’s review

Li Wei Vegetarian @ Serangoon North Avenue 1

Li Wei Vegetarian is a popular place. A very popular place. Located in the Chang Cheng Mee Wah coffee shop – itself strategically positioned at the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3 (next to the Masjid Al-Istiqamah no less) – Li Wei’s boasts queues that are longer than any other stall in the whole of the coffee shop. Proof can be found in the picture below. Vegetarian food commanding more attention than pig organ soup, sliced fish porridge, and pork chop and chips? This, my friends, is not a sight you see everyday.

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Li Wei Vegetarian @ Serangoon North Avenue 1

To be perfectly honest, there was only one reason for me to visit Li Wei’s – Hungry AM’s unflinchingly flattering review of the chicken rice. Giving it a heady 10/10 (way back in 2009, to be fair), reserved he is not with his praise. “Legendary”, “a fantastic version”, “definitely the best” – it’s presented to the reader as Last Supper-calibre stuff. Desperate to see what the fuss is all about, I went to go and savour it myself. And to that point, i’m still not quite sure what the fuss is all about…

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Vegetarian roast chicken with char siew + soup + rice

The vegetarian roast chicken (SGD 3.50 – price unchanged in 5 years!) comes with char siew and soup and rice! I was mildly shocked by such generosity – still am in fact. Beautiful plates and nicely presented, it got off to a good start. The rice was good (HAM – “perfect”) – the grains were swollen and satisfying, although the taste was a little subdued for my liking (more ginger, more stock…). The soup was also delicious – fresh and light and able to cut through the heaviness of the mock meats well. Speaking of mock meats…

The chicken was deep-fried and gluten-made. It tasted to me like it had been battered, with the outer layer having a slight sweetness to it that made me feel a little uncomfortable (even HAM admits it’s “a little sickly”). The char siew – usually a favourite of mine – was too dark in colour (it looked like sliced liver – scary), and had none of the tangy sweetness that makes this imitation meat what it is. What really destroyed this dish for me, however, was the sauce. Apparently a type of Chinese plum sauce, it was at once a bit too sweet, a bit too salty, and yet still rather bland. It was also incredibly oily. So oily, in fact, that you could feel it coating your mouth with every bite, and it lingered in the throat long after your jaw had stopped exercising. Not pleasant, at all.

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Would you like some mock chicken with your oil?

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad plate of chicken rice. It’s incredibly good value, and a satisfying meal overall. My point is that it certainly isn’t the best in Singapore, nor is it 10/10-standard. It’s good, but probably commands no more than seven-point-something. And when there are versions as good as Onn’s around, it becomes even clearer that this thing needs to be re-thought. Still, nice plates.

Li Wei Vegetarian
#01-41, Block 151, Serangoon North Avenue 1
9786 4741
Open 08:00-20:00 Friday-Wednesday; open 08:00-12:00 Thursday

See also:
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
All About Veggie’s review

LivinGreens @ Rangoon Road

I have always thought that Rangoon Road sounds a lot more exotic – a lot more interesting, perhaps – than it really is. It conjures images of an outpost, of empire, of a nexus of both time and space. But in Singapore it’s just another road located in a faintly suburban, somewhat barren part of the island. It’s marketed by the real estate community as “city fringe”, and it certainly feels like it. It’s a place on the cusp of something – or somewhere – a lot more interesting. It’s populated by grey, newly built, low-rise condominiums; immaculate, trendy cafe’s; and some relics of Chinese industry. On the ground floor of one such condominium – across the road from two trendy cafe’s – is LivinGreens, a vegan restaurant that focusses on healthy eating. An unsurprising association that many people fail to grasp.

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LivinGreens @ Rangoon Road

LivinGreens is the sort of place that flies under the radar. It closes early, and looks perpetually like it has just opened. It’s littered with unopened boxes, blank walls, shiny new fittings, and an endearing sense of uncertainty. It’s the kind of place where you have to keep asking for things – water, more cutlery, more plates, more time, napkins, and so on. But what it lacks in service slickness it more than makes up for in culinary competence. The menu is original and innovative – I wanted to try everything. And as you can see from the pictures below, the presentation of the food was nothing less than stunning. Really, it was supermodel-calibre stuff.

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Fried laksa spaghetti

The fried laksa spaghetti (SGD 8.90) looked wild and smelt delicious. The shredded radish (or was it cucumber? I honestly couldn’t tell) looked like a mop of unruly hair, whilst the laksa spaghetti (made with semolina, apparently) smelt like a wonderful blend of coconut and citrus. Just as laksa should. My mouth was watering before I had even put anything inside it. I almost wish I hadn’t, as the taste shattered the illusion of perfection. There was nothing wrong with the taste, the only problem was that it was completely dominated by the spice of the chilli. Chilli, chilli, chilli, spice, spice, spice – that’s about all there was to it. A tad disappointing overall.

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Mushroom burger

Next up, the mushroom burger (SGD 10.50) looked equally stunning. Like the mad professor of the burger world, with alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, cherry tomatoes and mustard dressing bursting out from underneath a wholemeal pita bun (freshly made, I think). I thought the burger contained a big shiitake, M. thought it was a small portobello. Either way it was too small and got lost within the madness of the burger. Accompanying the burger was a ridiculously colourful salad of shredded beetroot, carrot and radish, red cabbage and pea shoots doused with a citrussy vinaigrette. It was a visual riot on top of a soothing green plate. Everything was very tasteful – and very tasty – but, for almost eleven dollars, it was also daylight robbery.

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Tahini wasabi buckwheat noodle

Finally, the tahini wasabi buckwheat noodle (SGD 8.90) caught my attention from the outset, and was the first thing I ordered. Again, visually untouchable – love it. The flavours were also very interesting – the tahini-wasabi pairing was unique as it was effective, as the nutty creaminess of the tahini helped to coddle the wasabi, making the flavours stretch and expand. Very clever. Intermixed with the buckwheat noodles was the usual array of veggies, although the promise that “fresh mint leaves give this dish the winning touch” seemed to be a bit of an unnecessary afterthought. As good as this dish looked, it was a nightmare to eat with a fork and spoon. Any semblance of elegance or panache – or even just good table-manners – soon evaporated as I ungainly chomped my way through the mass of stringy stuff. Oh well, at least my mother wasn’t present.

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Saucy

LivinGreens is a quality-oriented place that serves very innovative food at a relatively high price. The food looks and tastes absolutely delicious, but something about it isn’t quite right. It could have been because everything was shredded, but I felt a lot like I was eating flavoured air. I left feeling hungry and, whilst my mind and mouth were sated, my stomach and wallet felt ever-so slightly cheated by the experience. But then again, I guess that’s Rangoon Road for you.

LivinGreens
#01-04 Urban Lofts, 89 Rangoon Road
9857 4881
veganplace@gmail.com
Website
Facebook
Open 11:00-15:00 & 17:00-19:30 Monday-Friday; 11:00-19:30 Saturday; CLOSED Sunday

See also:
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Eat Pray Flying’s review
VeganAsh’s review