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Bugis | Little India

clearing the backlog.

the problem with food blogging is that whilst some restaurants really compel me to blog about the fantastic tastes and the artful decor (say, jaan), others simply can’t excite me to summon much enthusiasm to write about. so let me try to complete this whilst i have so time to spare.

chalk is the very definition of hidden find, tucked up above mount sophia at old school, where timbre is also sited. its a chillax, artsy environment what with the semi-industrial, minimalistic designs (seemingly with the swedish design aesthetic) along with tasteful paintings and furniture. getting here can be quite a pain if you don’t have a car, as it means climbing up quite a few sequences of steps from plaza singapura. but that gives it the secluded charm i suppose.

my first impression of chalk was hugely positive – nice ambience along with good wine and company, and the restaurant gave the sense of a cosy after-work chill out spot for wine and food lovers and artsy bohemian spirits alike. often quite packed and requiring reservations, the restaurant had the air of a crowded yet still sufficiently private feel of a popular dining club, if you know what i mean. food-wise, the first experience proved pretty good, what with a decent carbonara serving, nice desserts and at a price point that wasn’t too expensive.

so it was with these high expectations that i headed back to chalk to celebrate my birthday (now you know how backlogged this post is.. lol). and with high expectations came a high crash i suppose. what stunned me initially was the prices of the food as i stared at the menu – simple pastas were going at high 20s to 30s (the range of fine dining establishments), appetizers going at 20s to 40s (for iberico ham) and with flatbreads (some variant of a pizza) fetching at least 30 bucks. its was seriously pricey and i was kinda shocked at the menu and really even wondering what to order. lets not even talk about the drinks menu.

i mean, let’s be honest about prices. people head to restaurants with a certain expectation after looking at the ambience, the clientele and just the general hype, classify them as a certain type of restaurant (cheap/value, cafe-style/brunch, mid-range, pricey, fine-dining). to me, chalk fell nicely in between the cafe/mid-range zone, where i would have expected pastas at around low 20s and mains at high 20s – 30s.. hmm, i dunno, the shock really took away alot of the initial goodwill i had of the place. and of course, with such prices, you become just that much demanding of what you get served with.

let’s talk service next. i would call it inattentive at best. there weren’t that many tables being served at that time, like 3 – 4.. which was surprisingly empty actually (maybe it was a sign). service was slow and it was difficult to get the waiter’s attention it seemed. furthermore, there was a distinct sense that some of the waiters (or perhaps owner?) of the place was fixated on serving this ang-moh family that were seated later than us and pointedly ignored us. and that’s annoying.

and then let’s talk food. surprisingly, the menu didn’t seem to have the well-acclaimed carbonara anymore, and the selections seemed to have thinned out. let’s see:-

(sorry if the dish name/price is inaccurate.. im trying to remember the ballpark figure)

seafood aglio olio, $32

to be honest, the dish didn’t look too bad or taste too bad, but i seriously don’t know how the restaurant would justify a pricepoint of 30-ish bucks. The ingredients don’t look particularly spectacular or expensive and neither does the execution seem to require some major expensive equipment. so why?

Coca De Matanza – Garlic Saffron Bread with Lean Pork Belly Meat, Fried Chorizo, Caramelized Onions, Roasted Garlic and Smoked Idiabazal Cheese ($36?)

i’ve said my piece about the price so i’m not repeating. taken on its own, this dish is actually a decent variation of your common pizza, with the caramelized onions, fried chorizo and pork belly meat blending well to create a flat bread that was both sweet and savory and tasted good. it’s a decent dish.

chocolate fondant, vanilla ice cream and sesame snap

sticky date pudding with brandy butterscotch sauce and ginger ice cream

vanilla pannacotta with berry compote

desserts was where chalk won back some points. the desserts felt inspired and the vanilla pannacotta is really something to die. for. light, but bursting with immense vanilla flavor and paired spectacularly with the berry compote, this dessert seriously left you wanting for me. haven’t seen another pannacotta that is as good as this to be honest. try this if you are here.

hmm. all in all? a disappointment, more from an overpriced standpoint. dishes were well-executed and tasty but the price left a bitter taste in the mouth. service didn’t help either. i liked their spanish flatbread, but found their others mains (didn’t really include them, but it included dishes like half a spring chicken and barramundi fish) to be too simplistic and uninspired to fetch such a high price. desserts were good. its sad to say this, but i doubt i would revisit chalk unless i hear sufficient good hype again. the competition out there is just too stiff. 5.0/10

chalk restaurant | 11 mount sophia, #01-03, singapore | desserts, western, contemporary

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a very odd reunion dinner.

the cny period is almost all over *sad* and well, for me it has been an unexpectedly enjoyable and fruitful one. spent time to just reconnect with relatives and the rest of the time finally getting to update my blog to one that would be much more easily navigable. =)

reunion dinner this year was a little interesting though. having had the extended family reunion dinners days before CNY eve, it was just the paltry me and my parents left to eat reunion dinner together. now, we decided not to have it at home this year not because my mom didn’t feel like cooking, but because we dad violently objected to washing dishes after that. hence, it was decided to head to a restaurant for reunion dinner this time.

but well, it was kind of a last minute decision, and with chinese restaurants either closed for their own staff’s reunion dinner or otherwise packed to the brim with pre-bookings, i decided to shuttle my parents to fika cafe, a halal swedish restaurant along arab street. surely that wouldn’t be closed. so there we headed.

fika cafe is a cosy, chic cafe that uses a predominantly white palette to create a clean, minimalistic, distinctly swedish aesthetic. my mom stepped in and commented that the furnishings looked very ikea, which is precisely the swedish design aesthetic – one of simple, bold design choices and well-organized, brightly-lit spaces. its no wonder so many people look to swedish designs for inspiration.

fika’s menu consists of crepes, sandwiches and mains that are indeed distinctly swedish – ranging from open-face sandwiches, salmon crepes to swedish meatballs, beef patties, grilled seafood and the likes. a word of caution though, do check with your server whether your dish is served chilled or warm – some swedish openface sandwiches are typically served cold so don’t get an unpleasant shock if what you assumed was a warm sandwich turns out cold.

swedish panbiff ($18.90)

essentially beef patties served with cream sauce along with lingoberry sauce and topped with some caramelized onions. this is yet another classic combination, essentially swapping out swedish meatballs for beef patties – it works because the sweetness of the lingoberry sauce pairs amazing with the savory, meaty flavor of the beef patty and cream sauce. delicious, but hmm.. i did feel that the patty wasn’t as well made as I could taste some tough sinews within the patty which detracted from the meal. and well, i tasted a much better patty in sweden before, so that’s what im comparing against.

grilled salmon ($22.90)

something you could easily see in the ikea cafe for half the price it seems. i felt that the fish was a little overly fishy (read: not fresh) upon first bites but it got better and more delicious as you ate. my mom did complain that the fish was quite dry, which i agree but i wonder whether it has something more to do with the cuisine.

swedish hash ($18.90)

not good. again, it was dry and the beef cubes weren’t juicy and were quite tough to chew on. i don’t really get this dish to be honest (my dad ordered it) – perhaps the beetroot slices and the sunny side up was meant to lend some sauce/moisture/sweetness to the potatoes and beef pieces, but it didn’t exactly seem to work. i didn’t like this.

cheesecake drizzled with lingoberry sauce ($7.90)

this desserts is where fika cafe salvaged some points back. the cheesecake was moist and delicious to eat, and paired superbly well with the lingoberry sauce (i wonder whether i can buy this in singapore). somehow the sweetness of the sauce complemented well with the light frothy sweetness of the cheesecake to create a delicious dessert.

hmm.. all in all, disappointing mains with a more decent end with desserts. to be honest what annoyed me more was how pricey the food was – we ended up paying $97.10 for 3 people, having only gotten mains, one dessert for sharing, and drinks. i mean, i really doubt the base ingredients are that exotic and unless lingoberries are really expensive, there isn’t much to justify a cost in terms of ingredients. execution-wise, these foods are simply comfort foods that seem pretty easy to pull off (but they weren’t exactly well executed). i’m wondering if the very notion that it is swedish food (something seemingly unique and exotic) would have raised the pricepoint.

satisfy your swedish food cravings at the ikea cafe my friends. fika cafe is better for their ambience and desserts. 5.25/10

fika cafe | 257 beach road/arab street | desserts, coffee, swedish food

sunday respite.

chanced upon this review from sparkette regarding torte and decided it was close enough to my old church and looked like a decent brunch place to spend a family Sunday with darling kaykayla before church service, so we headed there. let’s talk ambience first. torte is situated at SCWO, which is right behind sculpture square (that houses artichoke). the restaurant seems wierdly placed, perhaps because my church has used the premises of SCWO for sunday school before, but essentially the cafe occupies a patio area along with some empty corridor area on the ground floor of SCWO. which honestly doesnt make for a very decent ambience. but ahh well, its quiet enough on a Sunday. the managers of the restaurant were really nice, came out to introduce the food and make small talk with us, thought that was a nice gesture. let’s get to the food.

signature torte with ice cream, $4.50

the torte was really pretty delicious, thick decadent chocolate that paired well with the vanilla ice cream. i’m not understand the use of environmentally friendly paper cartons to present the dish though. i mean, its like somewhat of a half-hearted theme that didn’t fully get carried out. i mean, is this place advocating environment consciousness? i don’t really see any posters whatsoever about it. and are these paper products really more environmentally friendly than using nice porcelain dishes that you can wash afterwards? i’m confused. as it is, the presentation gets docked a few points simply because of the use of such a presentation style.

full breakfast – potato wedges, sausages and scrambled eggs ($9)

this really didn’t work for me, which pains me to say because the managers were really pretty earnest. but perhaps some lessons can be learnt from this. first of, the plating yet again doesn’t do anything but cheapen the appearance of the dish. it looks like school cafeteria food like this! now my first impression was.. really? potato wedges, two miserly sausages and eggs for that pricepoint seemed a little pricey. i mean, wedges are little frozen food equivalent and they just tasted pretty normal. the sausages were really common as well and i really didn’t like the eggs because i think too much milk was added, giving a very bland, anemic feel to the scrambled egg. not good.

hmm.. all in all, i’m kinda disappointed. i liked the torte, but the full breakfast was kind of a fiasco of sorts. perhaps come down if you are at the area and want a quiet place for a dessert or a coffee. but otherwise unless the food improves, it’ll be hard to find me back here. 4.0/10

torte | 96 waterloo street, #01-07, singapore council of women’s organization center |  desserts, laid back

ramen, iron chef style.

methinks this is a really innovative venture at iluma shopping mall – round up a bunch of well known ramen chefs and pit them against each other iron chef style and allow the patrons to decide who is the king of ramen. the concept of the restaurant is similar to that of medz/shokudo/marche where you get a card to swipe as much food as you want, you grab a seat in the japanese-izakaya themed restaurant layout and then order your preferred ramen.

mind you, for the uninitiated, the nuances between the ramen of different districts can be quite daunting. and well, even for me, who has tried quite a few ramen stalls, i can’t tell you what makes different ramen of different districts unique. i only know that i like hakata ramen for their thin cut noodles and savory broth and am acquainted with sapporo ramen for their miso/shouyu/shio broths normally sweetened with the inclusion of corn.

so yeah, i was intimidated and well, went with my instincts and chose the Bario ramen, based on my friend’s prior recommendation.

Bario ramen – this one’s for the boys – $13

this ramen has character. and indeed, interestingly as it sounds, the characteristics of the ramen resemble that of a stereotypical macho dude that zhams all the ingredients and asks for second helpings at everything. in other words, everything in this ramen is loud and boisterous, like a drunkard japanese man stumbling out of an izakaya. the soup broth is good stuff – and with the addition of copious (and this is encouraged by the chef – 3 scoops of garlic = decent DUDE) amounts of garlic, the flavor profile becomes more unique and well.. nice. and well, this ramen honestly can be shared amongst two in my opinion, because the noodles are thick and heavy and the beansprouts mountain is really quite daunting a task to finish. i somehow felt the thickness of the noodle made it difficult for the flavor of the soup to entirely seep into the noodle, leading to a somewhat less tasty experience when u eat the noodle cos u taste alot of flour. ohh.. and the char siew is kinda miserable compared to the other ingredients, 3 pieces of char siew that ain’t much to talk about. =)

in a nutshell, Bario – full of flavor, overwhelming, not too nuanced.

tsukemen from tetsu

my sis and dad opted for the tsukemen – a dipping ramen where ramen and broth are presented separately and one has to dip the ramen into the broth and sip vigorously. the broth is thicker than other ramen soups and is also somewhat more flavorful. wasn’t too impressed with this because it just felt like zhup (sauce) and noodles without any other ingredients, but the broth was pretty good. worth a shot if one hasn’t eaten such dipping ramen before.

black shoyu ramen from menya iroha

my mom got this cos she didn’t want something too oily. hmm, this one actually is the most similar to the normal ramen we see at other ramen establishments. but the black shoyu does give it different, more edgy flavor profile. i think i preferred this the most in my opinion.

all in all, a decent place to soak in some japonisme and try all the quirky ramen you can stomach! 7/10

 ramen champion | 201 victoria street, bugis iluma, #04-08/09/10 s188607 | japanese, ramen, themed

cosy little art corner.

when i suggested to my cornell friends to come to artichoke to eat, i guess they weren’t used to my liking of hidden finds and the likes and hence i got this sms from one of my friends when she was reaching..

“frank, im reaching, but are you sure this is correct? im opposite fortune center and it looks positively seedy

lol. well, sculpture garden is tucked away at the edge of middle road facing dubious looking buildings like fortune center and ma-kwang TCM clinic but well, its a hidden haven away from the bustle of the city — the compound was converted from an old church into an art gallery with an ensuite restaurant space that used to house the secret garden. we decided to visit the art gallery after our meal and found it a really cool exhibition space for up and coming artists. this is the side of singapore i like.

anyways, the interior of artichoke is like that of a casual relaxed cafe, with simple wooden chairs surrounding normal tables, the monotony of white washed walls interrupted with graffiti-esque designs and blackboards chalked with today’s specials. its kinda warm, perhaps to give the impression of an semi-alfresco dining but there’s a sense of an otherworldly-ness due to its secluded location.

service-wise, lets just say this place doesn’t exactly win any awards on that front. the servers aren’t exactly the friendliest and weren’t too helpful. first of all, considering there were 7 people on my table and the water jug on our table was perennially empty, i wonder why it wouldn’t have been easier to just give us two jugs. also, when we asked for recommendations for dessert, this dude said we could share a date pudding among three people, prompting us to recoil and wonder just how big the pudding was (it turned out to be nice for one -_-“). finally, the cardinal sin was when a server came and swiftly took awake our dish of date pudding with one final morsel left that we had been struggling to decide who to finish since we are chinese and we all have the “last piece aversion syndrome”. what a crime.. lol

nevertheless, the food was excellent, so lets get to it.

grilled haloumi cheese, $14

delicious. the grilled cheese tasted amazing and paired well with the savory condiments of walnuts, olive oil, tomatoes and the likes. that being said, we quickly realised an issue with 7 people at the table — simply put it, the style of dining at artichoke and the portion size of the dishes makes it exceedingly difficult for a group of 7 to feel satiated, considering one gets small morsels of every dish ordered, no matter how many. and mind you, i think we got a little carried away ordering dishes to satisfy our hungry stomachs to the point that the meal became an exorbitantly priced affair. you see, artichoke encourages you to share your dishes, and whilst sharing such-sized dishes is decent for 3 – 4 people, it’s not the case for 7.. you practically have to order double for each, which we failed to realise. (i blame all ordering issues to the service, since the servers should be astute enough to advise on such stuff)

its irritating when the food is actually really good, with really complex and interesting flavor profiles, and yet the service, portions, price and just the overall satisfaction level lets you down.

home-grown grilled mushrooms – $15

i never knew mushrooms could taste so good. nuff’ said. the seasoning, along with the freshness of the shrooms made for a refreshing and delicious dish.

poutine (hashbrowns pieces doused in oxtail gravy with oxtail bits, fresh prawns, red cheddar and argula) $28

i would have ordered this online for myself had i the choice. Poutine is something i had when i first headed to Canada and had always wished for it to appear on menus in Singapore  – essentially a dish of french fries, fresh cheese curds covered with brown gravy, this version of your common fries is really something. I remember us students driving around trying to find a KFC along the Candian highway in order to get our poutine fix. anyways, this dish was really satisfying and good — the oxtail gravy and fresh prawns interpretation of a classic dish was creative and elevating the flavor profile of a long time classic. yum.

lamb rack, $28

there were six pieces on the dish. and seven of us. mind you, rationing of food was never as painful before, especially since the ribs were really tasty. but by then i was realizing the amount that we had ordered and how weirdly unsatisfying the portions were — like some tasting menu where u only got morsels of something good, instead of like servings of comfort food that you could really tuck in.

the date pudding that could be shared among 3 people. -_-“, $14

ok look at that dish and tell me that it can be honestly shared among 3 people. 3 anorexic ladies who had just weighed themselves a moment ago perhaps, but not 3 normal size individuals who weren’t feeling particular satiated. that being said, this dessert was amazingly good as well – the mixture of flavors from the peanut beanut, date pudding and salted caramel added many layers of complexity to the dessert experience, though i did feel that the sea salt grains were tad too large and made the salty profile a little heavy.

the bill eventually came up to around $40 a person (i am omitting some dishes we ordered). i mean, actually on hindsight, dining at a fine dining restaurant and having a dessert and a main course would probably have worked up to roughly that amount, but this place just felt oddly overpriced. i guess it was the fact that we were sharing what was single portions of desserts and small portions of mains and that the atmosphere spoke of comfort food than that of fine dining that made the meal seem really overpriced.

all in all, really delicious, good food that’s worth a try. don’t come with too large groups of people and know what to expect of the price range. the service is a little upsetting i guess and could be improved. 6.75*/10

*grr.. this is my first time giving a part score, mainly bcos the food was much above a 7.00 but the service and everything else threatened to drag it to a 6.5

artichoke | 161 middle road, sculpture square, s188978 | mediterranean, comfort food, desserts, delicious, little india

the very definition of tucked away.

mind you, the patrons at wild rocket at mount emily most certainly did not just chance upon the restaurant located to the side of the lobby of a cosy, contemporary hostel called hangout at the top of mount emily. the place is truly tucked away, and the restaurant seemingly doesnt even bother to, say.. place a signage or such at the roadside to indicate its presence, so much so that i initially did a double take when we drove into the hangout hotel carpark and wondered if i had gotten the wrong address.

but people do come, which i suppose tells you something about the food here.  but lets first talk about the ambience – simple contemporary, with use of soothing green elements to exude a tropical, calming feel. the restaurant almost feels like a cafe (i suspect a portion is used for breakfast buffet by patrons at the hotel), as the interior of the restaurant is in full view from patrons of the lobby. but owing to the fact that the hangout hotel feels like some chic-contemporary hostel, you dont get much nuisance, and the environment is well suited for a lazy saturday lunch session. and mind you, methinks lunch here is a steal — the executive lunch set is priced at $35++, of which you can choose any appetizer and any dessert within the menu paired with 5 possible choices of entree. and mind you, when a single entree can cost $35 and appetizers/desserts go at around $18 – $20, the lunch set is too good to be missed. let’s serve em’ up

salmon carpaccio with bonito flakes and red rice

an instant winner. the presentation and initial aroma wafting from the wooden receptacle left one salivating. i quickly realized that wild rocket served what you call mod Singaporean food — updating Singaporean sauces and flavors with western concepts, ingredients and serving styles in a creative and intelligent manner. its something familiar paired with something new. this dish probably took its roots from japanese origins, using classical japanese ingredients like bonito flakes, fish roe and salmon sashimi but serving the salmon carpaccio style (thinly sliced, raw) and then presenting it on a bed of delicious, savoury red rice (which is healthier than white rice for that matter), topped with drizzles of mayo to complete the taste. the mixture of flavors – western and eastern, someone came together perfectly and was a fantastic appetizer.

chilean roasted sea bass with chai-poh served with congee

honestly, its cool to be at a restaurant where the chef joyfully plays with his food creations and infuses his experiences of both eastern and western cultures to create truly creative and delicious masterpieces. (hear that, 2am dessert bar) this dish brought back memories of eating chwee kueh with chai poh (salted turnip) at ghim moh during my JC days. the seabass was masterfully cooked — flaky and full of flavor and counterbalanced the saltiness of the chai poh perfectly whilst the congee served as a background base to elevate the taste of both foods. you know how you sometimes need rice in order to fully appreciate the sauces involved in some chinese dishes? i think this was what was achieved in this case. delicious, a little small, but with a smart choice of appetizer (like mine above), this was perfect.

wild rocket strawberry cheesecake

hmm, leave the desserts to the french? this was a case where i couldn’t detect much of a mod sing feel of the food as there wasn’t nary of an asian influence to the dessert. in essence, the strawberry cheescake was a deconstructed version of your cheesecake, served up in a martini glass. we have a generous dollop of philly cheese (though i wish it was mascarpone), followed by walnut ice cream (to masquerade as the cream?) then garnished with syrup-infused strawberries and graham-cracker bits to complete the feel. maybe i don’t get deconstruction, but in trying to reconstruct the cheesecake by combining the elements within a single scoop, i didn’t feel any particular innovation or new tastes that evolved. hmm.

all in all, this place is quite the hidden find, and really, a perfect place for a cozy chill out session with your atas friends and the likes. drive there though, the midday sun can be quite oppressive if you need to walk up mount emily. 7.5/10

wild rocket at mount emily | hangout hotel, 10a upper wilkie road, s228119 | contemporary, fusion, western, mod sing

an acquired taste.

oh dear, i think my one month stint at italy has certainly spoilt me in terms of italian cuisine. i’ll never judge a singaporean pizzeria fairly again, not especially when i’m comparing them to cheap good joints in italy that sell whole delicious, piping hot pizzas at 7euro each. ahh well, lets get on to reviewing sole pomodoro, tucked away in a small corner near little india mrt.

i suspect sole pomodoro took over some old kopitiam space last time, as it’s location is one more suited for it — right by the roadside amidst those old-fashion shophouses, with the indian cinema diagonally across the street. its a pretty chill ambience, no air-conditioning but sufficiently ‘insulated’ from the outside world to give a sense of otherworldiness. the decor is of a hearty simple italian restaurant that reminded me of those in italy, complete with the big wood fired oven and the large wooden pizza ladles.

foodwise, mind you, it’s not exactly a value experience, with parma ham and melon (the classic combination) going at $18.90 and fried calamari at $14.90. slightly more expensive then normal joints giving the portions, and i honestly do think that italians dont exactly do their appetizers well (or at least, not as well as the french). so it was kinda unmemorable.

the pizzas were the highlight i guess. our group of 10+ people shared 4 pizzas — for the first two, we chose bufala (tomato sauce and buffalo mozarella, $24.90) to satisfy cheese lovers (mind you, try buffalo mozarella if you have not done so before.. it’s really delicious and goes superbly well in pizza) and crudo e rucola (tomato sauce, mozarella, parma ham, rocket salad, $24.90) for those wanting some veg. they’re delicious i must admit, reminding me of the great italian pizzas i had – the rocket and ham pairing went surprisingly well, with the semi-bitterness of the rocket leaves going very well with the saltiness of the parma ham and the sweetness of the tomato sauce. all in all a well balanced, delicious pizza.

and as you can see above, we ordered some pizza with artichoke, which i promptly avoided. i dun see how artichokes go well in pizza, and if i were to eat a slice, i usually pluck out the artichokes. to me, there are some ingredients in traditional pizzas that i scratch my head at — one is artichokes, and the other is anchovies. ewwww. the intense saltiness and fishiness of anchovies really turns me off. pair it with capers, and it reaches inedible-ville for me.

sole pomodoro (mozarella, sun dried tomatoes, cream, potato, sausage, onion, $24.90)

delicious pizza that warrants another visit if not for the price (which somehow to me, just tips over the overpriced range.) i don’t get the name though. i know pomodoro is italian for tomato, and i google translated sole to be sun.. so i suppose the pizza is centered aroung the sun dried tomatoes? however, the predominant taste that makes this pizza a hit is the cream/potato base paired with sausages. its like those waraku pizzas but with more intense and complex flavors, supposedly from the sun dried tomatoes and mozarella. but its really good.

all in all, a decent italian restaurant (the chef is italian i think, but i think he kinda bullies on the hapless philipino servers) that is tad overpriced to me, but worth a visit if you’re up for some good authentic italian pizza. yummy. 7/10

sole pomodoro | 19/21 Mackenzie Road #01-01 s228678| italian, authentic, comfort food