Henry Vegetarian @ Upper Boon Keng Road

Henry Vegetarian has sparked some rumblings of discontent in Singapore’s vegesphere lately, mainly because it has opened within spitting distance (excuse the crude metaphor, but in this case it really is quite apt) of Onn Vegetarian in Block 5 Upper Boon Keng Road. Compounding this is the fact that Hungry Ang Mo – grandmaster of Singapore’s digital vegesphere – has recently announced on his Facebook page that he will “no longer blog, promote or mention about Henry Wang [proprietor of Henry Vegetarian, and formerly Vegetarian Era] on my website or Facebook”, a decision which stems from the belief that “one should never specifically aim to hurt or sabotage other vegetarian eateries”. Add to the mix the fact that HAM used to promote Henry Wang’s other outlets (“without sounding arrogant, I would suspect most people would not even know of Henry Wang if not for Hungry Ang Mo”), but has recently taken the side of Onn Vegetarian (which he awarded “Best Vegetarian Eatery”, “Best Vegetarian Dish” and “Best Vegetarian Hawker” in the HAM 2014 Food Awards) and you’ve got a recipe for Singapore’s very own vegetarian soap opera! Or maybe just an opera. The word “vegetarian” does have “aria” in it, after all.

Wow, drama. Personally i’m a big fan of both the free market (may the best business win) and the economic benefits of agglomeration, and so feel that two (apparently) high quality vegetarian eateries pitching up next to each other is a wonderful thing. (Although it should be noted that they aren’t even that close to each other – Onn’s is in a small food court facing Upper Boon Keng Road, Henry’s is in an equally small food court facing Lorong 1 Geylang). Let the market decide, Caesar. Of course I am privy to all but the slightest glimpse of the big picture and the various machinations behind Henry Vegetarian’s choice of location, but I still can’t help but feel that HAM being so divisive about such a trifling issue is a tad unnecessary.

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Henry’s Menu

But enough babbling, let’s get down to brass tacks: the grub. Aggressive locational manoeuvring aside, Henry Wang is famous for one thing above all else: his vegan sauces. So famous in fact, he actually had the inclination to write a book on the topic (called “DIY Vegan Sauce” for those that are interested). Makes sense, as Singaporeans do love their sauces. As could be expected, sauce-laden dishes feature prominently on the menu and, of course, in the dishes themselves. So far so saucy.

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Hainanese Curry Rice

Although served a little cold, the Hainanese Curry Rice (SGD 5.00) was actually my favourite dish that we tried. Why did I like it so much? Mainly because it felt like I was eating three different meals, not one. Meal #1 was the rice, topped with chopped long beans and two different sauces; a sweet and coconutty curry sauce (yellow in the picture), and a richer and more tangy tomato/tamarind-based sauce (reddy-brown in the picture). The sauces stunned me; they had an enveloping sort of richness, and were full of layers of luxurious flavour. Five-star stuff, served in the sweaty confines of a hawker centre. I couldn’t get enough.

Meal #2 was the aubergine, which was tangy and salty and really quite delicious. Cooked properly, and aubergine can be wonderfully rich and creamy. This was meltingly soft and tender, but would have been even nicer if served warm. But still, the tanginess of the sauce really helped to waken it up and gave it a much-needed spark.

Meal #3 was the most nondescript of the pack: boiled cabbage and black fungus, and some chewy and scratchy (and really quite ugly) breaded gluten that was sliced into strips. Nothing to get excited about, and completely eclipsed by the marvel of Meals #1 and #2.

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Long Bean Cai Po Mee Pok with Monkey Head Mushrooms

The second dish we tried was the Long Bean Cai Po Mee Pok with Monkey Head Mushrooms (SGD4.00). To be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect this to look at all how it did – I was thinking battered and fried monkey heads, drowning in something thick and peppery and sitting on top of a bed of noodles. Not so. This was a stripped down version of what I was expecting, stripped down in terms of both flavours and presentation. The primary flavours were of sesame oil, whilst the sprinkle of deep-fried spring onions provided some crunch. It was a clean and fragrant dish that could have been a lot more disappointing than it really was. But still, after the sheer joy of Henry’s Hainanese Curry Rice, I was searching for more sauce. Sauce from the source, you could say.

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Pan Fried Dumplings

Finally, the Pan Fried Dumplings (SGD 4.00 for 8 dump’s) were large and soft and utterly unremarkable. They tasted artificial – too much mock meat and mushroom, and not enough fresh vegetables. They needed a signature flavour, rather than just browny-grey mush. They also needed to be properly pan-fried and crispy, not just heated up and made to be very, very sticky. On the upside, the vinegar and ginger dip was dynamite, and put a nice sting in the tail of these rather bland behemoths.

All in all, Henry Vegetarian is a class act. The dishes that disappointed were those that didn’t contain his specialist subject: his sauces. Even for someone who usually abhors the overt saucification of food (I don’t even put ketchup on my chips!), I think I may have to make an exception here. The Hainanese Curry Rice was absolutely brilliant, and i’m keen to try and sauce out the others gems on the menu. Watch this sauce. Space, I mean space.

Henry Vegetarian
Block 5 Upper Boon Keng Road, #01-22
8590 6995
chefhenrywang@hotmail.com
Facebook
Open 10:00-21:00 daily

See also:
Eat Pray Flying’s review
Hungry Ang Mo’s review (AMK branch – Vegetarian Era)
Hungry Ang Mo’s review (Eunos branch – Vegetarian Era)
Vegan Ash’s review (Eunos branch – Vegetarian Era)

Beyond Veggie @ KSL City Mall

I’m always somewhat baffled by just how progressive Malaysia’s vegesphere is – progressive in the sense that they have chains of vegetarian restaurants, not just lonely individual outlets. Incredible. Last year I visited one such chain – Simple Life Healthy Vegetarian Restaurant in KL – and last week I visited another: Beyond Veggie in Johor Bahru. Even if you haven’t heard of Beyond Veggie, i’m quite sure that most residents of Singapore (or Malaysia) will have heard of Beyond Veggie’s parent company – Secret Recipe. Scary red branding, naff font, and average-looking food? That’s the one. Beyond Veggie is the vegetarian branch of the Secret Recipe tree, and provides an altogether more sophisticated dining experience. And i’m not just saying that because there’s no meat on the menu.

Although it was completely empty when we visited (CNY, duh), I was still mildly impressed by the decor, the service and the general boldness of the concept. It’s located in the basement of KSL City shopping mall – a short bus ride (S1, MYR 1.50) from JB Sentral. Whilst the basement itself stank of rancid assam laksa, Beyond Veggie provided a veritable oasis of earthy hues and neutral smells. Ahh, bliss.

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Teriyaki Soba

First we ordered the Teriyaki Soba (MYR 15.90), which was soba noodles stir-fried in teriyaki sauce with button and shimeiji mushrooms, carrot and capsicum, beansprouts and some greens. Flanking the noodles was some sliced (Japanese, obviously) cucumber, achar pickles, emping (Indonesia-style) crackers, and some skewered gluten. A veritable feast, you could say.

The portion size was large, and that dish it sat in? It got style. It was served piping hot (which was a little strange), with strong smells of wokiness and teriyakiness. I guess it did everything right – delivered what it promised – but I couldn’t help but feel that everything was just a bit too greasy and nondescript in taste. A bit watery and superficial, perhaps? But still, lovely cucumber. I do like a nice wedge of cucumber.

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Veg Club Sandwich

Next we had the Veg Club Sandwich (MYR 14.90) – a strange name given that the conventional “club” is usually associated with bacon and some sort of poultry (chick or turk). And, of course, a bit of lettuce and a bathtub of mayo. This thing came with a slice of processed cheese up top, under which sat layer upon layer of tomato, lettuce and cucumber, all cemented together with great slops of the white stuff. Bookending this monster was some rather tasty olive focaccia, which provided some much needed salt to cut through all the dairy derivatives. It was very watery, incredibly messy, and yet also strangely tasty. I would order it again, but would prefer if they changed the name to something a bit more accurate. “Cheese and salad sandwich”, perhaps? It’s really not rocket science.

It came with the eponymous emping crackers (lotsof’em) and a side dish of cold potato mush that was a cross between potato salad and coleslaw. Again, weird, but actually rather moreish. This dish was full of pleasantish little surprises. And in these staid days of prandial predictability, you can’t ask for much more than that.

Beyond Veggie by Secret Garden
LG-21, KSL City Mall, No. 33 Jalan Seladang, Taman Abad, 80250 Johor Bahru, Johor
07-289-0069
Facebook
Website
Open daily

See also:
All About Veggie’s review
Hungry Ang Mo’s review (Ipoh branch)
Potatologue’s review
Cheryl Chan Photography’s review (Tropicana City Mall outlet)

A very vegetarian Valentine’s Day

Above all else, there is one thing that has defined my twenty-fifteen so far: falafels. Such definition stems from my recent patronage of Tokyo’s finest pitaria – Kuumba du Falafel – followed by Singapore’s finest pitaria – Fill-a-Pita. “Where next?”, you may well be asking. Bangkok? Hong Kong? London? No, no and no. Must be Cairo? No again. Give up.

I opted, of course, for the capital of my world: home. And what better day to celebrate my love for falafels, than on Valentine’s Day itself. Add masterchef M to the mix, and whoever said that three’s a crowd clearly has a somewhat parochial idea of what a healthy relationship entails. Indeed, the ménage à trois has never appeared more platonic! But that does, of course, depend on what you choose to do with those little fried balls of fancy. Or should I say “fantasy”…? Enough skylarking, this is serious.

The main reason – beyond the obvious fact that they taste great – that falafels hold such an esteemed place in my arsenal of favourite foods, is because they so effortlessly straddle the veg/non-veg divide. That is, they are adored by vegetarians and meatatarians alike – even McDonalds has flirted with a McFalafel in some Middle Eastern markets. They are, in sum, a bit like the UN, but in bite-sized portions. And probably a lot more effective at what they do as well.

All this being said, no falafel is an island, not least ours. Instead, we devoured them alongside a motley crew of Levantine side-dishes, the overall effect being nothing short of superb. Here’s what we had…

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Saganaki

We appetised our appetites with some saganaki which, in its essence, is fried cheese, Greco-style. Feta, coated in flour and then fried in some olive oil and topped with a dusting of fried basil. Pungent and salty, I will never look at the faceless feta in the same way again. What I liked most about this dish was how the texture evolved from marshmallow gooeyness to a more brittle and robust little morsel of pleasure. And pleasure they were, every last one…

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Baba ghanoush

This was my first time trying home-made baba ghanoush, and like home-made hummus, it provided that much more satisfaction once you know the hands that made it. Rich and creamy, it yielded a fantastic quantity from just one medium-sized aubergine. It looked a lot like hummus, but with a lighter texture and richer taste. This stuff should be called “baba vamoosh”, given the speed with which it was scooped from the bowl. Delicious.

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Tabbouleh

The tabbouleh was, dare I say it, made by me, and was a passable effort. I’m a big fan of bulgur wheat – especially its nutty taste, chewy texture and ease of preparation – and eat it quite regularly. I forgot the red onion and (as usual) overseasoned it with lemon juice. But still, edible and always pleasing to the eye.

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Tzatziki

For me the tzatziki was, along with the falafels, the star of the show. Tzatziki is an immeasurably refreshing yoghurt dip infused with salt and cucumber (both grated and chopped). The cucumber shone through, and made this thing smell and taste like an English summertime. I could eat this stuff by the vat-load.

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Chickpea & edamame falafels

And finally the falafels, those glorious, glorious falafels. The chickpeas were soaked overnight but not cooked. Instead, they were blitzed together with edamame and onion (and the requisite spices and pastes, notably cumin and tahini) and then lightly pan-fried to retain their texture. The edamame and onion added a subtle sweetness that helped to lighten the exotic warmth of the cumin. And, perhaps most importantly, the edamame also contributed to making the insides of these things green – a nice touch that never fails to please me.

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Falafel in pita = magic

We buried the falafels in some absolutely rubbish (it was impossible to open up the pockets without breaking the sides, annoying) Mission-brand pitas, which were topped up with salad and tzatziki. The standout performer for the salad was the carrot, which had previously been pickled using lemon. Crunchy and zesty, it merged beautifully with the tzatziki to provide some zing to the blanketing warmth of the cumin. Altogether it was magic, in a meal.

Hakka Lei Cha @ The Food Place, Raffles City Shopping Centre

Raffles City’s food court – aptly named “The Food Place” – is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s tucked away on the third floor, hidden behind a rather small and nondescript entrance that, once passed, funnels out into veritable amphitheatre of culinary competitiveness. The vegetarian offerings appear to be strong, but the vanguard would have to be Stall 8 – the Hakka Lei Cha. Also affectionately known amongst Anglophiles as “Thunder Tea Rice”. Thunder tea rice? Thunder tea LIFE more like! Oh yes!

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Hakka Lei Cha @ Raffles City Shopping centre

Thunder tea rice is known for its goody-two-shoes medicinal powers; for being a nutrition-packed meal at the worst of times, and an elixir of good health at the best. It’s very wholesome, very cleansing and (literally) very green; a perfect way to ameliorate the effects of having one too many adult beverages the night before. Thunder tea rice as a hangover cure? Another feather in its proverbial cap!

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Hakka Lei Cha

The Hakka Lei Cha (SGD 6.20 with brown rice) came with a rather hefty price tag, probably the heftiest I have ever seen for this dish. And at first glance, I was a little sceptical. The presentation was, in a word, “blokey”, as the ingredients – spinach, celery, tofu, cabbage, some red beans – were carelessly tossed on top of the brown rice. The substitution of red beans in place of the usual crushed peanuts was also a little contentious, not least because the crunchiness of the peanuts is essential to a good bowl of Lei Cha. Or so I thought.

After the first bite all perceived foibles quickly melted away; this thing was superb. Really, one of the best LC’s i’ve had. The soup was think and pungent; the basil in particular contributed a rich boldness that made the flavours more sonorous, and in doing so did an excellent job of masking the residual effects of too much boozing. The ingredients themselves had fantastic taste – the spinach and the celery stood out in particular. Yes I missed the crunchiness of the peanuts, but they soon became a distant memory as I slurped and burped my way through this bowl of gloriously green and earthy flavours and textures. This was nuts and bolts Lei Cha at its absolute best. “Nuts” in the metaphorical sense of the word, of course. Not literal.

Hakka Lei Cha
Stall 8, The Food Place, #03-15/16/17 Raffles City Shopping Centre, Raffles City
Open daily

See also:
Vegetus’s post on Thunder Tea Rice @ Lau Pa Sat

Botejyu @ Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese-style savoury pancake that consists mainly of grated yam and shredded cabbage, but is often bolstered with meat, egg, cheese and other vegetables. It occupies the “junk food” (or, perhaps more kindly, the “soul food”) end of the spectrum of Japanese cuisine, largely because it’s grilled and then soaked with sauces. Primarily associated with the Kansai and Hiroshima regions of Western Japan, okonomiyaki literally translates as “grilled as you like it”. This means that the scope for freestyling is theoretically unlimited, which is never a bad thing for vegetarians.

Okonomiyaki is said to have originated in the food capital of Japan – Osaka – and one of the most well-known Osakan okonomiyaki chains in Botejyu. Established in 1946, Botejyu has spent the past 70 years spreading the love of okonomiyaki through its ever-expanding network of national and international outlets. There are even several in Singapore, but it was the Osakan mothership that I visited. The menu has zero vegetarian options, so you will need to customise your order. Easier said than done if you’re a non-nihongo speaker (and don’t have one as part of your entourage). Bring your resolve as well as your wallet, as the waitress “strongly advised” us against omitting the pork and bonito, despite our protestations. Pah!

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No-frills okonomiyaki

The litmus test for okonomiyaki (or any food, for that matter) is to try the no-frills version and see how good it is. So that’s exactly what we did at Botejyu. In the world of okonomiyaki, “no-frills” often equates to the basics of cabbage, yam, scallion, spring onion and dashi stock. As expected, ours was gratifyingly crunchy, greasy, salty and immensely tasty. But the one thing that struck me most about this thing had nothing to do with taste or texture, but presentation. It was ugly. 

Done well, the saucy top of the okonomiyaki should look a bit like the icing of a mille-feuille, that is, combed. Indeed, one of the most distinguishing features of okonomiyaki is the two sauces that are usually slathered on top: a dark, sweet and tangy Japanese-style Worcester sauce, and mayonnaise. The dark Worcestershire sauce provides a base layer, whilst the white mayo is used slightly more creatively. Not so this time – as you can see, the application of the mayonnaise was little more than a careless swirl. And not even a particularly tight or well-defined one at that. Pah again.

For the record, I would like to register my love for Japanese-style Worcester sauce. It’s sweeter and thicker than its English counterpart, and is commonly associated with the Bull-Dog brand. If I could bathe in this stuff, I would. Another exciting discovery was that of shichimi – Japanese “seven spice” (commonly associated with the S&B brand). What I like most about this stuff is the inclusion of orange peel, which adds a wonderful citrusy sweetness to the spice. It’s the sort of stuff that can bring even the blandest of meals to life. With the Worcester sauce, it’s a truly tongue-tingling combination.

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Yakisoba, or Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki

As well as the no-frills version, we also had a Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, called “yakisoba”. As the name suggests, the base consists of fried soba which makes this a starchier alternative. It was certainly filling, but personally I preferred the crunchy cabbaginess of okonomiyaki. It’s just got more character, y’know?

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The best okonomiyaki: home-made

Finally, the beauty of okonomiyaki is that it’s relatively simple to make yourself. Well, for M it is at least. Above is a home-made version that we had in Singapore a few weeks ago. For those of you looking to try making it yourself, there are few better people on this planet to provide instruction than those from Cooking with Dog. Below are a couple of videos that show you how it’s done. The first shows how to make normal okonomiyaki (meaty version), the second shows Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Good luck in the kitchen!


Botejyu
2F Comrade Dotonburi Building, 1-6-5 Dotonburi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi
06-6211-3641
Website
Facebook
Open 11:00-23:00 daily

See also:
Pace Miller’s review
For the Love of Food’s review
My Eating Life in Tokyo’s review
Sushi and Sake’s introduction to okonomiyaki
The Wikipedia entry on okonomiyaki

Growing chillies from chilli (UPDATE)

I have done quite a lot in the past five months. I have ushered in a New Year, eaten one of the best Christmas dinners of my life, and been to Japan (and Kuala Lumpur… and Sri Lanka!). And yet all of these developments are mere context, the changing landscape of life. Far more important have been my efforts at life-creation; specifically, my chilli-rearing.

Since documenting the first steps on how to grow chilli plants from chilli seeds, I have fastidiously watered and encouraged my seedlings, and upgraded them to pots of ever-greater size. I say “seedlings”, but over time this has metamorphosed into just a single “plant”. Indeed, it would appear that chilli-rearing is a bit of a zero-sum game. Below is the survivor of the bunch, the embodiment of Darwinism in action, and living testament to my green(ish) fingers: mon piment.

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Chillirific!

Isn’t he/she/it magnificent?! Possibly the most handsomest chilli I have ever laid my eyes upon. Certainly one that is too good to eat. Well, almost…

Self-congratulations aside, the process of chilli-rearing proved to be littered with little learnings (learningettes, if you will) that may or may not be useful to others looking to walk the path of spicy parenthood. These be they:

  1. Chillies are slow growers. I mean, really slow.
  2. Chillies need their space. Don’t crowd them; don’t make them compete; one-seed-to-a-pot (or eggshell) is enough.
  3. Chillies love eggs. Their shells especially. Best type of fertiliser there is.
  4. Chillies change colour. Green chillies are little more than immature red chillies – give them (yet more) time and your greens will turn red, after transiting through a rather unappetising shade of brown.
  5. Chillies aren’t particularly high-yielding. See above. Or maybe mine is just… special.
  6. Chillies are beautiful. Just look at this thing…

That’s it! Good luck!

Ryoan-ji Yudofu @ Ryoan-ji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi

For most, a trip to Kyoto is not complete without a visit to Ryoan-ji – a Zen Buddhist temple that is best known for its karesansui  (“dry landscape”, or Zen garden). But whilst the karesansui may be the draw, it’s a restaurant that for many provides the reason to prolong their visit. Nestled within the natural confines of the temple precinct, Ryoan-ji Yudofu is a vegan restaurant that serves shojin ryori (or “Buddhist vegetarian temple cuisine”). The setting is as beautiful as it is bucolic, with diners looking out onto the idealised miniature landscapes that exemplify the Japanese approach to the manipulation of nature. It’s calm, contemplative and wonderfully curated; the perfect setting to relax the mind and recalibrate the palate.

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Ryoan-ji Yudofu @ Ryoan-ji

To get to the restaurant, you have to get to Ryoan-ji, and to get to Ryoan-ji you will probably either be coming from or going to the nearby Kinkaku-ji. Both are a well-established part of the tourist (and pilgrim) trail, and happen to be located along the same road. You can either walk between them, or take bus 59. The restaurant is located in the middle of the temple grounds, and is fairly well signposted (just follow any arrows you see). When you get there the shoes come off, the knees go down, the servers come out and the food goes in. It’s like clockwork.

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Tofu hotpot

One of the things that enamoured me most to shojin ryori was the fact that there were only two options to choose from – tofu hotpot or tofu hotpot with sides. No messing around, no deliberation, just a commitment to simplicity of action at every stage. It’s all about stripping away what’s unnecessary instead of adding anything extra; a philosophy that applies as much to life as it does eating. Amen.

As such, the food showcases a variety of simple, natural and very clean flavours. Kyoto is known for its silky smooth tofu, which, apart from some kelp and Chinese cabbage, was all the pot contained. The soya taste of the tofu was subtle, but easily invigorated by dunking it in the side dish of grated ginger and soy sauce.

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Sides and centres

Accompanying the hotpot was a tray of sides that included a small block of sesame tofu, some pickled vegetables and rolled beancurd skin and adzuki beans in a molasses dressing. Combined with the tofu, the meal was an exemplar of harmonious understatement. The enjoyment was as much in the relative blandness of the flavours as it was the accents. It’s not the sort of food that’s available to (or would appeal to) most people everyday, but I can’t think of a better way to regain one’s sense of taste – and of perspective – than by eating this stuff. It’s as good for the body as it is the soul.  

 Ryoan-ji Yudofu
13 Ryoan-ji Goryonoshita-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
+81-75-463-2216
Website
Open until 16:30 daily

See also:
Review My Life’s review
House of Hao’s review
Mr and Mrs Vegan’s review
Hello Mr and Mrs Vegan’s review
The Wikipedia entry on “Buddhist cuisine”
Enso Kitchen

Wheat Baumkuchen @ One Raffles Place

Over the years, Wheat Baumkuchen has proven itself to be a cross between a jack-in-the-box and a culinary chameleon. That is, it keeps appearing, inventing, disappearing, disinventing, reappearing and reinventing itself. Keeping up with it could arguably be considered a full-time job, but it’s always a pleasant surprise when you do manage to pin it down long enough to enjoy its wares. Exaggeration aside, this place really does seem to be a master of metamorphosis, so much so that I just read that i’m already behind on the name – apparently it’s now just “WHEAT”? I give up…

The brainchild of secretary-turned-serial-entrepreneur Lilian Lee (who was impressively (wo)manning the till when I visited), Wheat Baumkuchen first made a name for itself by baking and flogging that German-cum-Japanese specialty – can you guess? – baumkuchen. Since then it has shifted its focus slightly: from circles to squiggles, sweet to savoury, cake to soba. That’s right, WHEAT (which, apparently, is an (inadvertently punny) acronym for “WHolesome EATs”) is now a bona-fide, health-conscious soba specialist with outlets in the bowels of One Raffles Place and the Asia Square food court. And for the vegetarians amongst us, there is one – just one – reason to grace this place with our presence: the REINDEER.

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The “Reindeer”

“Reindeer” (SGD 7.80) is actually Baumcoden for the vegetarian soba option, which in the bowl translates into soba, shimeiji mushrooms, wakame, a seemingly never-ending supply of edamame, and some shredded carrot, rocket and lettuce. All of this tossed with a light and creamy sesame dressing, garnished with some sesame seeds up top.

And that, my dear reader(s), is where the excitement ends. For beyond describing the ingredients, I struggle to find anything else – good or bad – to say about this dish. It tasted exactly as I expected: it was safe and predictable and entirely by-the-book. It was a little expensive and not very filling. I liked the subtle smoothness of the sesame dressing and the generous portion of edamame the best. But apart from that, I would say that the most outstanding thing about this dish was the fact that nothing stands out. It’s Mr (or Mrs) Nice in soba form; marriage material in a meal, but a far cry from the TV-hurling rockstar that most of us rely on at lunchtime to break up the drudgery of the day.

My suggestion? Elevate yourself a few floors and treat your tastebuds at Healthy Soba IKI; a more authentic (and rock ‘n roll) experience by far.

Wheat Baumkuchen
One Raffles Place, #B1-32
6443 3391
lilian@wheatbaumkuchen.com
Website
Facebook
Open 09:00-21:00 daily

See also:
Daniel Food Diary’s review
Ms Skinny Fat’s review
Aldora Muses’ review
Alvinology’s review
Four Legged Foodies’ review
Missus Chewy’s review

Thida Cuisine Corner @ Golden Mile Complex

A few months ago I reported on the downfall of our hitherto favourite Thai place in Golden Mile Kompleks – the Nong Khai Beer House. Such was our dismay at its fall from grace – manifested in the form of insolent service and inedible food – that we vowed not to return for a long time. We didn’t and we shan’t, although we have been keen to find a decent replacement. Hence it was in the spirit of discovery that we went rummaging around Golden Mile last Saturday, and happened to stumble upon Thida Cuisine Corner. It’s a relatively small place that was packed when we arrived. By any stretch of the imagination, this is usually a good thing.

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Thida Cuisine Corner @ Golden Mile Complex

Thida’s specialises in the cuisine of North-Eastern Thailand (or “Isan” cuisine), which is known for its fiery chilli kick and mollifying sticky rice (although, ironically, the rice we were served was anything but sticky – more like dry and scratchy). It’s also a region famous for its pungent fish sauces (so pungent that they are known to deliver crippling tong sia – stomach aches!) and porky dishes (kor moo yangi/grilled pork neck; laab moo/minced pork salad; nam tok moo/grilled pork salad, and so on). Hardly a vegetarian nirvana. Not that we were complaining, as this only justified our decision to stick to our perennial favourites – green curry and phad thai, veg-style. Yes!

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Green curry

The green curry (SGD 10.00) was cooked in a pot with meat, but we were willing to turn a blind eye to such unforeseen fraternising. The gravy looked a little light and frothy, and turned out to be rather coconut-heavy. In my view, a good green curry is meant to be a lot like a trampoline – buoyant and exciting, but with the knowledge that there is always something underneath to stop you from breaking your neck, and to provide a springboard for the next dose of excitement. I know, what a metaphor! Unfortunately this trampoline proved to be too taut to deliver any excitement. The curry was too creamy, too heavy, a little salty and really quite bland. The range of vegetables was commendable, but it seemed to downplay the few key ingredients that make a good green curry sing (or bounce): kaffir lime, lemongrass, chilli, and maybe a little galangal. Quelle dommage.

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Phad thai

The phad thai (SGD 5.00) came suffused with high expectations after the disappointment of the green curry, and it certainly made up for it in terms of portion size… Gargantuan! Although I think they kindly ramped up the size a little as a trade-off for us asking the prawns to be omitted. How nice. This dish was good – the noodles were a little overdone and mushy, but overall it had a nice sourness to it. It also came with a very generous helping of crushed peanuts on the side, which never fails to be a redemptive move in my book.

Thida Cuisine Corner
#01-48 Golden Mile Complex, 5001 Beach Road
9117 9072
info@thidacuisine.com
Website
Open 11:00-23:00 daily

See also:
Vegetus’s post on Nong Khai Beer House
The Wikipedia entry on “Isan” cuisine

Dessert @ Cocotte (REDUX)

There are times in life when you can’t help but feel that you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Hyping up New Years Eve is one; getting excited about British sporting hopes is another; and eating at Cocotte is a third. We made the mistake of visiting Cocotte a few months ago, and made it again on Friday night. To be clear, our motivations were pure. Visit numero uno was driven by the intention to try the creme brûlée, which was unfortunately unavailable. Thus, visit numero due was driven by the desire for brûlée-style redemption; we even made a point to check that they were serving it before sitting down. They were, we did, and that’s where that all-too-familiar sense of Cocotte-inspired disappointment began…

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Creme brûlée

The creme brûlée (SGD 8.00) looked promising from the top, and had a sturdy enough glaze to warrant spending an enjoyable few seconds chip chip chipping away at it. The problem lay with what was underneath. Rather than a velvety-soft vanilla filling that radiated warmth and comfort through its luxuriant, creamy texture and hue, we were instead treated to something the colour of a Chinese auntie’s tattooed eyebrows. Yes, it was green.

Green! What a slap in the face. To make matters worse, the taste had little correlation with the colour. Pandan, we thought; green tea, maybe? A slight bitterness, barely perceptible. But no, it was actually pistachio. Pistachio! Who would have guessed. Well I suppose the colour did sort of give the game away, but the flavour did anything but. Amaretto maybe, but it was a real struggle to recognise the relative saltiness of pistachio over almond or any other type of nut. To this moment, I still think that green tea is the most accurate descriptor.

But then again, all this discussion is mere smoke and mirrors. It doesn’t hide the fact that this was a disappointing and failed attempt to redefine the classic creme brûlée. A bold move in itself; one that should not be undertaken lightly. Creme de cocotte (in the classic sense of the word), yes. But creme brûlée? No, absolutely coc-notte.

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Carrot cake

Now carrot cake (SGD 9.00) is a perennial favourite of mine, so choosing this from the dessert and pastry counter was a high-stakes move. A high stakes move that didn’t really pay off. A lot like “The Fat Elvis” that we tried last time, this thing was big and dry and really quite tasteless. It seemed stale, like it had been left out for too long (just look at that fault line in the frosting!). Speaking of which, the frosting tasted like sweet and watery butter. There were some saccharine-sweet sugared walnuts on top and a layer of raisins just below the frosting, but all in all this thing lacked verve. The flavours were flat and one-dimensional (sweet and… sweet?), and I couldn’t help but feel that a little cinnamon (or even just carrot) would have gone a long way. My recommendation for anyone looking for a decent piece of gâteau aux carottes would be to do yourself a favour and make one (or two, or probably three for the price) yourself at home. Next time, I most certainly will.

Cocotte
2 Dickson Road (located inside the Wanderlust Hotel)
6298 1188
info@restaurantcocotte.com
Website
Facebook
Open 12:00-14:00 & 18:00-22:00 Monday & Wednesday-Friday; 12:00-17:00 & 18:00-22:00 Saturday-Sunday; CLOSED Tuesday

See also:
Ladyironchef’s review
Daniel Food Diary’s review
Seth Lui’s review