3 Petits Croissants @ SOTA

With the recent relocation of Le Cafe from Peace Centre to Suntec, residents of SeleSep (Selegie-Prinsep, obvs) and environs have been bereft of a good bakery. (That’s actually a lie but, for literary effect, nevermind). Thankfully, 3 Petits Croissants has recently stepped up to the proverbial plate. Opening its (many) doors for business on 19th September, the bakery-shaped hole along SeleSep did not last for long. Phew.

Boasting a name that is as naff as Le Caf’ ($10 says it represents 3 partners, or something like that), 3PC is located on the corner of Prinsep Street and Orchard Road, within the artsy confines of SOTA. It’s large, very large (maybe a bit too large for a bakery), and has enough tables and chairs to seat a small army of patrons. It’s also well-positioned (between Dhoby Ghaut and Bras Basah MRTs), and can expect a lot of pedestrian traffic. Overall it feels like an ambitious project, especially given that its size contravenes (what I believe to be) the key operating principles of a successful bakery: small, homely, and transient.

3PC provides a smorgasbord of baked stuff (breads, tarts, viennoiseries and feuillettes) and brews, although the options were limited when I visited. Nonetheless, the occasional wafts of buttery goodness coming from the ovens were satisfying and, I was pleased to note, followed me out the door. In the wonderful world of bakeries, smell really is all that matters. Forget marketing, it’s the smell that does the selling…

3 Petits Croissants
SOTA, 1 Zubir Said Drive
franck.a@3petitscroissants.com
Website
Facebook
Open 08:00-20:00 Tuesday-Sunday; CLOSED Monday

CROISSANT (SGD 2.70)

Quite small, flat and skinny, this looked a little disappointing. I prefer my croissants to have a little more volume – puffed up and boastful rather than limp and subdued. To be honest, this looked like something you would buy from a supermarket. Visuals aside, I found the flavour of the butter to be a little too residual, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it was only served lukewarm. The outer shell was, however, nice and crisp.

Verdict: 5.9/10

CHOCOLATE CROISSANT | PAIN AU CHOCOLATE (SGD 2.90)

Like the standard crois’, the pain au c. hardly sold me on its appearance. It was, however, quite dense, with multiple layers of pastry encasing the chocolate filling. Whilst the filling was frugal, the chocolate had a nice bitterness to it. Again, it lacked warmth, volume and confidence.

Verdict: 6.3/10

FINANCIER (SGD 1.50)

A rather dense financier – certainly more dense than what i’m used to. The texture was moist and heavy (borderline soggy) rather than light and springy, and was the same throughout (i.e. the top and sides were, unfortunately, not crisped). That said, the flavour of the almond came through nicely and, because of its moistness, gave it an almost marzipan-like sweetness. Also comes in lemon. Or citron.

Verdict: 6.5/10

RAISIN BRIOCHE | PAIN AUX RAISINS (SGD 3.00)

Again, a little on the small side. The amount of raisins used was generous, but they didn’t contribute much (or any) richness to the overall flavour. I found the pastry to be crisp but quite dry, which wasn’t helped by the general lack of creme patisserie filling. Quite expensive for what it was.

Verdict: 5.3/10

It’s very early days for 3PC, but I can’t help but feel that it may struggle. The vienoisseries I tried all passed muster in terms of taste, but they all disappointed in terms of texture and visual appeal. 3PC may suffer from having too much space, and too little distinctiveness.

Atmosphere: 7.0/10
Service: 6.5/10
Taste: 6.0/10
Value: 7.6/10

See also:
This article in the Huffington Post about the relationship between the smell of baked bread and kindness! 

NamNam Noodle Bar @ Plaza Singapura

NamNam is a chain of Vietnamese eateries, most of which are conveniently nestled next to escalators in busy department stores. As such, every outlet is surrounded by a whirlwind of pedestrian traffic moving both laterally and vertically. The Plaza Singapura branch is an eatery that I felt like I knew before I even knew it (if you know what I mean). The management appear to have mastered the art of subliminal awareness, something which I think is very clever indeed.

Perhaps such locational savviness is to be expected, as Nam2 is nestled within the Les Amis Group’s pantheon of brands. It is, accordingly, a pretty slick operation. Nearly everything – from the decor, to the website, to the pricing – is about right. The flooring deserves a special mention: geometric blue and white squares that are nicely worn and dizzyingly retro-cool. The one thing letting it down is the inefficient seating and payment system – whilst you are meant to queue separately for each, most people don’t. What follows? Confusion.

Nam2’s self-proclaimed “Pho-Losophy” is to serve MSG-free Vietnamese street food quickly, and at an affordable price. The menu spans a range of banh mi’s (Vietnamese-style baguettes), pho’s (rice flour noodles in broth), other noodle and side dishes, and desserts. Desserts aside, there are precisely two savoury vegetarian options on the menu: a vegetarian banh mi and fried vegetarian rolls. Pathetic. Nonetheless, the banh mi sounded enticing enough for me to rise above such blatant veggie-snubbing and politely join the lunchtime queue. An exemplar of grace and good manners, what!

NamNam Noodle Bar
68 Orchard Road, #01-55 Plaza Singapura
6837 2234
eat@namnamnoodlebar.com.sg
Website
Open 10:00-21:30 daily

FRIED VEGETARIAN ROLLS (SGD 4.90)

The rolls themselves were rather run-of-the-mill (containing radish, carrot, and glass noodles), although it should be noted that the oiliness was minimal, and they were served on a very cool sheet of greased paper that was printed with a Vietnamese streetscape. Nice touch. The dipping sauce was good – the chilli, garlic and citrusy (lemon and lime) notes really helped to transform the taste into something from the streets of Saigon.

Verdict: 7.3/10

VEGETARIAN BANH MI (SGD 5.90)

These baguettes are often sold from roadside carts in Vietnam, and are one of the more enduring (and positive) legacies of the French occupation. My banh (“bread”) mi (“wheat”) was served warm, and densely packed with lemongrass tofu (although the lemongrass was non-existent), omelette, fresh and crunchy ‘erbs and vegetables (coriander, red chilli, cucumber, radish) and glass noodles. Whilst the bread was quite dry, the vinaigrette used to season the vegetables was refreshingly sour, and another sauce added a deliciously smokey flavour. Overall it was very tasty and well-priced, although the flavours weren’t definitively ‘Nam-esque.

Verdict: 8.3/10

VANILLA PUDDING WITH PALM SUGAR CARAMEL (SGD 3.90)

Served well-chilled, the vanilla pudding looked incredible. The first few bites were rich and creamy and full of character. The texture was very solid and robust, to the point that it reminded me a little of nougat. Vanilla seeds were strewn liberally throughout the pudding, but it would have benefitted from having a little more caramel sauce. Whilst i’m happy to turn a blind eye, the more staunch vegetarians out there might want to give this a miss, as the use of gelatin was quite apparent.

Verdict: 8.5/10

Nam2 offers an infuriatingly small selection of vegetarian dishes that are, nonetheless, quite delicious and very good value. It is very well-conceptualised and quite well-executed. I like this place; I only wish I had a few more reasons to return.  

Atmosphere: 8.1/10
Service: 6.7/10
Taste: 8.0/10
Value: 8.4/10

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

Carrot cake

Ah, carrot cake! I can guarantee that almost every Western expat living in Singapore will have a carrot cake-related story to tell you. For over here (and in Malaysia and, apparently, the Chaoshan region of China), carrot cake is not really carrot cake. Especially not the sort of carrot cake we’re used to in angmoh-land. It’s savoury, stir-fried and has nothing to do with carrots (it’s made of radish). The corruption is extreme, and it is as much a matter of principle as it is taste that I refuse to like the local variant (also known as chai tow kway).

I like the oxymoronic world of carrot cake a lot. Apparently i’m not alone, as it was voted the UK’s most popular cake in 2011. The sweetness is much more moderate than with other cakes, especially when you make it yourself and especially when you omit the icing (and the walnuts and raisins, which are often unnecessary distractions). This recipe strips the carrot cake back to basics. It’s simple and produces one of the finest, most refined CC’s I have ever eaten.

Ingredients 

Caster sugar (90g)
Eggs (x2)
Grated carrot (140g)
Flour (120g)
Unsalted butter (80g)
Lemon or lime juice (x2 tsp)
Honey (x1 tbsp)
Baking soda (x1 tsp)
Baking powder (half tsp)
Cinnamon (x1 tsp)
Vanilla powder or extract (half tsp)
Nutmeg (quarter tsp)
Salt (quarter tsp)

Method

1. Grate, melt, line and heat: Plan for the future by: (1) peeling and finely grating your carrot(s) into a bowl; (2) measuring out your butter and then melting it in the microwave; (3) lining a small rectangular baking tray with greaseproof paper, and; (4) pre-heating the oven to 170 degrees (turn on the convection or fan setting if you have one).

2. Prepare two large mixing bowls: 

  • BOWL 1 (DRY INGREDIENTS): Add your dry ingredients – the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla powder (if using extract, add to the other bowl), nutmeg and salt – to the bowl, and mix together.

  • BOWL 2 (WET INGREDIENTS): Add the caster sugar and eggs to the bowl, and whisk until combined.

  • Then add the honey, carrot, lemon or lime juice, and melted butter. Again, whisk until evenly combined.

3. Combine the bowls: Slowly add the contents of Bowl 1 (dry ingredients) to Bowl 2, gently folding the mixtures together using a spatula. The folding is key, as you want to keep the mixture nice and light. Once done, the mixture should be quite runny and have a nice elasticity to it.

4. Prepare to bake: Pour Bowl 2 (which, by now, should have the contents of Bowl 1 mixed into it) into the baking tray. Make sure it’s evenly spread throughout. Tap the tray a couple of times to make sure the mixture has settled. Put into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.

5. Bake at 170 degrees for 30 minutes: Once 30 minutes is nearly up, test to make sure it’s cooked by inserting a chopstick into the middle. If it’s cooked, the chopstick should be clean when you remove it.

6. Cool and serve: Remove and cool for 10 minutes or so before chopping up and serving. Goes especially well with either a knob of butter or a dollop of natural yoghurt. That’s right. Welcome to the anti-icing revolution.

Yi Xin Vegetarian Food @ Temple Street

I actually chanced upon Yi Xin a couple of months ago, whilst taking a post-lunch stroll around Chinatown. I didn’t eat anything that first visit, but was drawn to the cluttered and homely atmosphere. Lots of hand-written or typed notices and menus adorned the walls, along with various posters promoting dharma courses and other Buddhist events. The feeling of clutteredness was exacerbated by the shelves of organic and vegan produce being sold – from noodles to condiments to fresh vegetables – which somehow enhanced the wide variety of vegetarian (Chinese, Buddhist – no egg, onion, garlic) dishes on offer. The overall impression was one of vegetarian industriousness, which I liked.

Located on Temple Street – one of the roads that runs off New Bridge Road and sandwiches the Sri Mariamman Temple (get it?) – Yi Xin is located in the noisy heart of Chinatown. It’s surrounded by elegant shophouses, spas, Chinese restaurants and TCM outlets, and is just a short walk from Chinatown MRT. When I visited (Saturday lunchtime), the servers were efficient and quite pushy. Don’t expect any exchange of pleasantries (or even time to peruse the menu); a ready-response to the brusque “yes?” is the best path to enlightenment. Sorry, I mean ingratiation. Singapore what!

Yi Xin Vegetarian Food
39 Temple Street
6225 9026
Open 08:00-22:00 daily

OLIVE FRIED RICE (SGD 4.00)

Praised by the Hungry Ang Mo as being “fantastically done”, this dish was an obvious choice. Indeed, it smelt delicious – the smokiness ignited my tastebuds with the promise of wok hei-ven. It was also ingredient-rich: finely chopped char siew, big (and quite random) chunks of tofu and olive-infused rice formed the base of the dish, whilst shredded lettuce, seaweed and pork floss provided the garnish. The rice had a nice crispiness to it, and the first few bites were indeed flavoursome. After that, however, it was downhill. The saltiness soon became overpowering, and the excessive use of MSG left my mouth tingling, swollen and gasping for water. My MSG hangover took (literally) hours to subside – not pleasant.

Verdict: 5.1/10

WHEAT NOODLE (SGD 4.50)

Wonderfully vivid colours – the green of the kai lan, the orange of the shredded carrot, and the soft milkiness of the soup all complemented each other well. The dish contained the aforementioned kai lan and carrot, alongside a variety of mock meats (fish, and some other strange chewy stuff), beancurd, seaweed, ginger and, of course, wheat noodles. The noodles were plentiful but a little soft and overdone – they disintegrated easily. The mock meats were slimy and mushy and fishy, which could be taken as either a positive or a negative. In terms of flavour, the ginger was dominant and made the whole dish taste quite medicinal.

Verdict: 6.6/10

An eatery that is, in my view, more authentically Chinese than authentically vegetarian. Whilst the range of ingredients used was good, the overall execution was a little haphazard. Relying on MSG for flavour is always a worrying sign. Overall, I wanted to like this place more than I actually did; it was a little disappointing. 

Atmosphere: 6.9/10
Service: 5.4/10
Taste: 5.9/10
Value: 7.3/10

See also:
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Mr & Mrs Vegan’s review

Veggie Cottage @ Dalhousie Lane

Veggie Cottage is a cutesy place that bears an uncanny resemblance to an Ikea showroom. From the name to the all-white walls and furniture, from the gurgle of water to the small plants in teapots on each table; as I crossed the threshold, the anaemic niceness of everything gave the distinct impression that this place may lack oomph. It all seemed a little too… Feminine.

And now, with the benefit of post-prandial hindsight, I think my judgement is fair. Veggie Cottage is certainly homely, but it’s imitation homely. It evokes an idea of provincial Europe that is as quaint as it is trite. Inside it feels like a cross between a library and a yoga studio – a space that encourages you to retreat rather than engage, to be stifled rather than stimulated. Oooh… Con-tra-ver-shul.

On the plus side, the menu is wide-ranging, wholly vegan, and predominantly Western (although a small selection of local dishes is also available). You can opt to have your food avec or sans onion. What I liked most about VC was the polite insistence that everybody clears away their own plates; a small act of humility that struggles to gain traction in Singapore.

Veggie Cottage
13 Dalhousie Lane
6785 6771
vegcottage@gmail.com
Website
Facebook
Open 11:00-20:45 Tuesday-Saturday; 11:00-16:00 Sunday; CLOSED Monday

AVOCADO DIP & ORGANIC TORTILLA CHIPS (SGD 4.80)

Whilst the tortilla chips looked and tasted good, the portion was very small. The avocado dip failed to make much of an impression. Too much mayonnaise and too little avocado made it look and taste bland and creamy. The addition of chopped onion helped to bolster the taste and texture, but the overall impact was marginal. Some citrusy notes (or even just coriander) would have helped.

Verdict: 5.1/10

GARDEN BURGER (SGD 7.80)

The burger comprised a bun, patty, lettuce and mayonnaise intermixed with some sort of chopped radish. The patty was succulent and juicy, and reminded me of those used by VeganBurg. Overall, however, the burger was (again) bland and creamy, and would have benefitted immensely from having a signature flavour. As VeganBurg has recognised, vegan patties are largely tasteless, so they dress them up with interesting flavour combinations: cracked pepper; teriyaki, barbecue and satay sauces; pineapple rings; mushrooms. If VC followed suit, this burger could be a winner. The chips (fries, whatever) were excessively oily but well-salted. Flavour, yes!

Verdict: 6.0/10

FISH AND CHIPS (SGD 7.80)

A signature dish, and for good reason. The mock fish patties were very good – the infusion of seaweed evoked the flavour of the ocean in a natural (not artificial) way, whilst the judicious use of oil replicated the fattiness of fish well. The batter was crunchy and satisfying. The accompanying salad (lettuce and red cabbage) was beautifully fresh and colourful, but could have done with some vinaigrette or other dressing. The tartar sauce was a disappointment – it lacked any sort of tartness, and tasted borderline sweet. Gherkins, capers, lemon juice, parsley, anything would have helped inject some much-needed zing into it.

Verdict: 7.2/10

CHOCOLATE MUFFIN (SGD 1.30)

A well-baked muffin with a nice and light consistency and a moist (almost lava-like) inside. MiKa found the taste a little flat, and thought that the cocoa had been substituted with carob. After the creamy blandness that had preceded it, I was just happy to taste some flavour. Any flavour!

Verdict: 7.3/10

A rather muted experience all-round. The flavours were heavy and limited, and I left feeling slightly dissatisfied. Everything about Veggie Cottage is nice, but it’s a little too nice for my liking. It lacks an edge, a hook, a really good reason to return.  

Atmosphere: 6.3/10
Service: 7.1/10
Taste: 6.4/10
Value: 6.1/10

See also:
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Mr and Mrs Vegan’s review
Eat Green Cake’s review

Rosti with baked eggs

Rosti is, essentially, a bigger and more civilised version of the humble hash brown. Its Swiss origins and associations lend it a sophistication that its American counterpart lacks, as does the fact that it is often enhanced by eggs, cheese and herbs (not burgers). It’s starchy and salty – always a pleasing combination – and requires few ingredients and little-to-no skill to make. It is, accordingly, one of my favourite potato dishes. Adding the eggs gives a bit of a protein boost that just about makes it a meal in itself. Add some salad or cooked vegetables and you’re good to go!

Ingredients (serves 2)

Potatoes (x3)
Onion (half)
Eggs (x2)
Butter
Olive oil
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
Rosemary (to taste)

Specialist equipment

A skillet or cast-iron pan

Method

1. Prepare the potatoes (can be done well in advance…): Peel the potatoes and add them to a pan of boiling water. Keep them whole, don’t chop them up. Parboil them for 7-10 minutes (depending on the size). ‘Parboil’ basically means to half-cook (or undercook) them. It’s best to err on the side of caution and under- rather than overcook them (overcooking them will make them impossible to grate). Leave them to cool down.

2. Grate the potatoes and onion: Once the potatoes have cooled down, grate them and the onion into a colander. They should look and feel like grated cheese. Push down to squeeze out any excess moisture – the drier the mixture, the better.

Transfer to a mixing bowl and season liberally with salt, pepper and rosemary, and add a few glugs of olive oil. Mix well with your hands.

3. Fry the rosti: Add some olive oil to your skillet or pan and heat it up using a medium flame. Add the rosti mixture to the pan and spread into a circle using a spatula. Cut four knobs 0f butter and add them to the outer edges of the mixture – this (apparently) helps to prevent it from sticking (although I have my doubts). Fry for about 10 minutes or so. Whilst doing so, turn on the oven and pre-heat to 200 degrees (turn on the fan setting if you have one).

Once 10 minutes is up, flip it over and fry the other side. To do this, first loosen the mixture using a spatula or fish slice. Then place an inverted plate over the top of the skillet, hold the two tightly together (try not to burn your fingers…), and flip. The rosti should now be sitting on the plate, cooked side on top. Add some more oil to the pan and slide the rosti back in – the cooked side should now be on top, the uncooked side on bottom. Fry for another 10 minutes or so.

4. Bake the rosti: Once 10 minutes is up, turn off the heat and crack two eggs on top of the rosti. Place the pan into the pre-heated oven and bake for 10 minutes or so, until the eggs are cooked.

5. Serve: Remove the skillet from the oven (carefully – it will be searingly hot!) and place on a heat-proof mat on the table. Serve from the pan. Eat and enjoy!

See also:
The Guardian’s view on “How to cook the perfect rosti”

Onn Vegetarian @ Upper Boon Keng Road

I love the name of this place. Short and simple and industrious and pronounceable – you couldn’t ask for more. According to Hungry Ang Mo, it’s derived from the Cantonese pronunciation of the chef’s hometown – Anson (Onn Soon) in Perak, Malaysia. An interesting fact that adds an extra layer of meaning to those three (actually, two) humble letters. A seriously good name; one of the best.

And it would appear that the food isn’t too shoddy either! Very positive reviews from the HAM, and Life of Lopsided 8 (amongst others) suggest that this is not a place to be trifled with. The chef (Chef Wai) has all-star culinary credentials that have been honed in some of Singapore’s best eateries (notably Les Amis, but also the Swissotel). For the past five years (or so) he has found his way back down to earth, and has graciously applied his cooking skills to the badlands of Geylang. Very cool.

Onn’s isn’t, strictly speaking, in Geylang, but on the outskirts. It’s within spitting distance of Kallang MRT, nestled within the breezy confines of the ‘Food House’. The service is relaxed and friendly, the location accessible, the food vegetarian… What’s not to like?

Onn Vegetarian
G5 Food House, Block 5 Upper Boon Keng Road
9152 6917
Facebook
Open 07:00-14:30 Monday-Saturday; CLOSED Sunday

GREEN CURRY WITH ORGANIC BROWN RICE (SGD 7.00)

The once-(or twice)-a-month special, Onn’s green curry was served with a healthy dose of high expectations. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet them. Despite having plenty of ingredients, the curry itself was thin and watery and lacked the creaminess of coconut milk, which, for me at least, is one of the keys to a good green curry. The range of ingredients was decent – baby and pea eggplant, brinjal, cherry tomatoes, lime, kaffir lime leaves, silken tofu (a strange addition), mock calamari (incredibly big, rubbery and ugly), mock fish and red chilli – but the flavours were flat and one-dimensional. That dimension was (an almost asam-like) sourness which was derived from the lime (lime, not kaffir lime – another key to a good green curry). Given the price and expectation, this was quite disappointing.

Verdict: 4.9/10

CHICKEN RICE (SGD 4.00)

Just as I was about to write Onn’s off as a great name with little substance, along came the chicken rice. It was incredible – the best chicken rice I have ever eaten, whether ‘real’ or ‘vegetarian’. Whilst i’m not much of a fan of mock meat, I have to make an exception for Onn’s chicken. Not only was it soft and tender and well-seasoned, but it also had a crispy outer skin that retained a delicious charred taste. Amazing – I still can’t believe the meat wasn’t real. The rice was also subtly fragrant, and the whole dish was well-seasoned with soy sauce and spring onion. What a comeback!

Verdict: 9.6/10

I have no doubt in my mind that Onn’s is a top notch vegetarian eatery. Whilst the green curry was disappointing, it isn’t part of the regular repertoire of Chinese dishes. Instead, you can look forward to the better-than-the-real-thing chicken rice (Tuesdays only), wanton noodles (Monday, Wednesday, Friday), dried noodles (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday), and a whole host of other local favourites. 

Atmosphere: 6.8/10
Service: 8.4/10
Taste: 7.3/10
Value: 7.6/10

See also:
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Life of Lopsided 8’s review

Restoran Hua Mui @ Jalan Trus

As a vegetarian with an appetite in Johor Bahru, there are very few reasons to visit Hua Mui. Granted, you may have a thing for corner-plot restaurants, classically tiled floors or wall-mounted antlers, but it certainly won’t be for the food; the veggie options are few and far between. BUT, if visiting JB with friends who may (just, may…) have a predilection for flesh, then you could well be dragged here.

Restoran Hua Mui is a very popular Hainanese cafe that is usually packed and noisy. People come here for the various “chops” – chicken, pork, whatever – as well as the large selection of noodle and rice dishes, coffee and toast. There were three things that I liked about this place: 1) the pulley system (or dumb waiter) used to ferry food and drinks between the first and second floors; 2) the constant breeze that blows in from the adjacent rows of windows on the second floor; and 3) the free peanuts that are served. That’s about it! There are no real vegetarian options on the menu, but you can try and patch together a meat-free meal as we did…

Restoran Hua Mui
131 Jalan Trus
07-224-7364
Open 07:30-19:30 daily

SCRAMBLED EGGS ON TOAST (MYR 5.50)

The toast was thick and well-buttered and looked really, really promising. Unfortunately it lacked the richness of butter, and had the cheap, dissatisfying taste of margarine instead. The eggs were OK – quite well-salted, but they had a strange, string-like texture that for some reason reminded me of shredded chicken.

Verdict: 6.1/10

HUA MUI FRIED RICE – VEGETARIAN VERSION (MYR 6.50)

This was served to us twice: the first time with meat, the second time without (the joys of ‘customising’ a dish…). Rather a pathetic plate of fried rice, by anyone’s standards. The overriding flavours were of MSG and tinned vegetables. The tomato was fresh but bland, the mushrooms were canned and salty. Lesson learnt: don’t even think about deviating from the menu.

Verdict: 3.8/10

If you do end up here (as a vegetarian), my advice would be to stick to the one or two meat-free dishes on the menu. This will invariably involve some sort of toast. Or else eat well before coming here. Or find some new friends to travel with!

Atmosphere: 6.5/10
Service: 5.8/10
Taste: 5.0/10
Value: 5.5/10

See also:
Johor Kaki’s review
Foodie FC’s review

Pita Pan @ The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands

What came first, the Fill-a or the Pan? Who cares (it was the Pan, the Pita Pan, for those that do…), for both have helped expand the range of healthy (and, coincidentally, vegetarian) Middle Eastern food options available in Singapore. This is undoubtedly a good thing, but I can’t help but line them up in a battle of the Pita’s…

Such a comparison is inevitable, for they could not be more different. Pita Pan is a Vegas prize fighter – all glitz and glamour and mood lighting and sterile surfaces – whereas Fill-a-Pita is a street fighter that emphasises authentic flavours and a relaxed and homely eating environment. Hassan of Fill-a-Pita spends his days in the trenches, working tirelessly to get to know each and every customer that comes through his (proverbial) doors, whereas Reena Pushkarna – the fairy godmother of Pita Pan – is little more than a hallucination that smiles benevolently down on you from a giant picture behind the counter. Call me a prole, but I find PP’s ownership style a little indulgent; give me Hassan’s work ethic any day…

Competition aside, Pita Pan’s MBS outlet is squeaky clean and caters to the high rolling tourist (and, by extension, casino) crowds. It’s inefficient, bland and ridiculously overpriced; the kind of eatery you could find in any major city around the world. The ordering and food collection system is mind-bogglingly confusing (it’s a bit like Subway, but nobody actually tells you that…), although it should be said that the servers were patient and pleasant. When I visited it was very crowded and nearly impossible to get a seat. We ended up perched at the bar, next to a large freezer containing stacks and stacks of pita (which the menu claims is “freshly baked”). Ahem.

Pita Pan
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bay Avenue, L1-87
6688 7450
pitapan@pitapan.com.sg
Website
Facebook
Open 11.00-23.00 Sunday-Thursday; 11.00-00.00 Friday-Saturday

HUMMUS WITH MUSHROOMS (SGD 11.90 + 10% service + 7% GST = SGD 13.92!)

The hummus was served with one pita, which was thick and fluffy and robust. The hummus was very creamy (a lot of tahini must have gone into it) and had quite a simple taste; the (garlic-infused) mushrooms were simply plonked on top. Personally I found the hummus to be too smooth – I prefer more texture, and I think it would have worked much better with the mushrooms chopped up and mixed in. Whilst this dish was better than my picture suggests, the flavours and textures could easily have been improved. The icing on the cake was that whilst the portion was medium-sized, the price was super-sized.

Verdict: 5.3/10

FULL POCKET MEAL (SGD 15.90 + 10% service + 7% GST = SGD 18.60!)

Before you gasp (or faint) at the price, it should be noted that the full pocket meal contains five falafels, a range of toppings (of your choice), chips and a soft drink. OK, now you can gasp/faint. Overall, this thing is ridiculous. It’s a monster of a pita – so big and messy that you have to eat it with a fork, and so expensive you need a line of credit to pay for it. Don’t get me wrong, the flavours of the toppings and falafels were delicious (the falafels were made with fava beans, and were a delightful green colour; the toppings ranged from candied carrots to marinated aubergines, and included everything in between), but because they were all mixed together it was very difficult to appreciate each one individually. This thing would have been much better just served on a plate. Whatever the opposite of synergy is (antinergy, perhaps?), this was it.

Verdict: 8.3/10

A mind-boggling experience. Delicious flavours, crazy pricing and a completely counter-intuitive service concept; Pita Pan is an example of Middle Eastern food on steroids. Come to think of it, even the name doesn’t really make sense (and don’t get the started on the music…). Given the choice, I would take the down-to-earth goodness of Fill-a-Pita any day.

Atmosphere: 3.5/10
Service: 5.1/10
Taste: 6.8/10
Value: 3.1/10

See also:
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Dairy & Cream’s review
Eat Green Cake’s review

Hiap Joo Bakery @ Jalan Tan Hiok Nee

Hiap Joo Bakery is a bit of an establishment in old-town JB. It’s one of those fantastically nondescript places that looks like it could do with a lick of paint (or six) and a face-lift, but still attracts hordes of people (you can tell the Singaporeans by their excitable discourse about “what’s good?”) that form snaking queues along Jalan Tan Hiok Nee in order to get their fix of baked stuff. Even the Sultan’s a fan, although I can’t imagine him queueing for as long as the rest of us plebs.

Apparently started by an English bloke way back in 1919, it has since passed along multiple generations of the same family. Nowadays grandparents and grandchildren alike all pitch in to keep on top of the orders (a truly fantastic sight). Like the ownership, the baking methods have changed little since inception: wood-fired ovens, natural ingredients and flavours, and a lot of labour. The commitment to the process of baking may be inefficient, but it pays off: the outputs are, generally speaking, de-lish.

The buns, breads and cakes come in batches and sell out within minutes, so don’t go thinking you can waltz up and order whatever you like, whenever you want. When I visited, the first batch of red bean, coconut and peanut buns was ready at about 11.30am, the banana bread at 12.30pm. The coconut buns and banana cake are the specials, so grab them whilst you can.

Hiap Joo Bakery & Biscuit Factory
13 Jalan Tan Hiok Nee, Johor Bahru
07-2231703
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Open 08.00-18:00 Monday-Saturday; CLOSED Sunday

COCONUT BUNS (MYR 3.50 for a bag of 5)

The coconut buns are actually quite small (about 5cm across), but densely packed with coconut filling. I actually found the filling to be a little dry in places (you can tell by the white tinges to the coconut in the picture), and MiKa found the texture of one bun to be almost sandy (perhaps from the gula melaka?). The weight, warmth and chewiness were all very satisfying, and the outer shell had an intriguing savoury twang thanks to the wood-fired oven.

Verdict: 7.5/10

RED BEAN BUNS (MYR 4.00 for a bag of 4)

Slightly bigger than their coconut counterparts, the red bean buns were just as warm and dense to hold. The red bean filling was deliciously soft and creamy, and the bun was light and fluffy. The outer shell was nicely browned and, like the coconut bun, had the same savoury twang that was further enhanced by the sesame seeds. Overall, the layers of red bean, bun and outer shell worked incredibly well together. Very, very nice.

Verdict: 9.0/10

HJB is a Johorian institution that will never go out of fashion. It’s a well-run bakery that has most definitely stood the test of time. Visiting this place is an experience in itself; it’s definitely worth waiting (and queuing) for the freshly baked buns and breads that are churned out. 

Atmosphere: 8.1/10
Service: 7.7/10
Taste: 8.3/10
Value: 8.9/10

See also:
Johor Kaki’s review