bittersweet memories.

you know, after blogging and reviewing so much about food, there’s a certain realization that food memories are hugely influenced by the people we eat the food with, the conversation we hold with them throughout the meal, and the emotions felt. in this case, it was a bittersweet meal, with the realization that chillin’ with my sis was going to be something that would be quite rare come next month onwards, considering that she would be flying off to spain for goodness knows how long. ah well.. it has been nice and a great support, and its really cool to grow up and see our siblings become our close friends.

anyways.. old empire gastrobar is this unpretentious pub/bar located in the sleepy shopping centre of valley point near river valley. (yes, spize is nearby, and dozo and la noce are in the same building.. if you need a reference). the sense i get from the bar is that it is an unpretentious watering hole, with lively 90s music, simple bar furnishings — a place that would completely blend into its surroundings had it been plonked into a irish/uk/us town. with such an environment, you would understand why foreigners flock to this place for drinks on a lazy, rainy friday night to just unwind, chillax and chat with friends. i was wondering why Singaporeans didn’t seem to buy into such a culture in general, then i remembered the coffee shops littered with old uncles watching football and realized the parallel there. different strokes for different folks eh?

and as an aside, using the word “gastrobar” really does raise the atas-ness of a restaurant by several notches eh? i mean, upon reading about this gastrobar on HGW, i was imagining some cool, chic, hip, well-designed bar serving pricey fusion bar food with an assortment of beer. well my impression couldn’t be more way off, considering this place was simply an unpretentious pub with well.. simple pubby food like fish & chips, burgers, chicken wings and the likes. but hey.. this shows.. using these “atas” words like gastro really does work sometimes eh? i’m chope-ing the word “gastroculture” or something like that for my future restaurant eh? lol..

trappistes rochefort 6

ok.. beer wise, they do have a real decent, long selection of beers, and with a happy hour till 8pm, you can get some relatively decently priced beers to accompany your meal. i got the trappistes rochefort 6 ($11), some belgian ale which had a malty sweet taste that appealed to my sweet-tooth sensibilities, whereas my sis got a girly koppaberg strawberry-lime beer ($8). both were pretty decent selections imo (but i still prefer wine of course =))

        smoked duck breast, $18

this is a surprisingly well plated dish for simple bar grub and the duck breast was all sorts of delicious, tasting almost somewhat like ham — well grilled, flavorful and really kinda addictive to be honest. the drawback of this dish would be the fact that it was kinda really oily, meaning that the health-conscious sensibilities of mine were kinda protesting at the dish. but its worth a try to be honest.

empire burger, $18

my sis ordered an empire burger, which was another surprise as well, this one not as pleasant. to be honest, the notion of burgers at a pub conjured up images of huge slabs of patty and bun in my mind, so it was kinda underwhelming to see such a small burger being served up, along with a decent potion of potato wedges. the burger was alrite, but nothing too special. this doesn’t really warrant an $18 to be honest..

hmm.. all in all, this place is nice to hang out and have some beer while catching up with friends. furthermore, there’s a 15% discount with standard chartered to sweeten the deal. food-wise, its kinda unexpected if you’re expecting common bar grub. there’s some level of sophistication but it needs some tweaking in my opinion. hold on the food-front until more reviews emerge praising their cuisine — otherwise, come for somewhat more delicious bar grub then. 6.5/10

old empire gastrobar |  491 River Valley Road, #01-16 Valley Point | bar grub, beers


midday respite.

headed down with nate for some coffee @ pause cafe during lunch time on a normal work day. pause cafe is situated amidst some industrial-ish place near jalan anak bukit merah, which is honestly a very odd place to site a cafe. i mean, i doubt nearby workers of the factories would be interested in such a place, and most people wouldn’t actually think of heading to anak bukit merah for some classy chillax coffe-place. so yeah, it’s almost like it was purposely placed there to be incongruous.

but all that being said, the place is really nice to relax and just catch up with old friends. the cafe is part of a concept store/boutique headed by dominic khoo, named 28th fevrier. the interior reminds me of those artsy, minimalist furniture places you would chance by whilst strolling down gastown in vancouver. the elusive-ness of the cafe adds to its charm, because the quietness and minimalist surroundings really do calm the work-frazzled nerves and time does slow down as you admire the interior and slowly sip your coffee.

cool decor.

i was really drawn by the furniture, what with paper/cardboard multi-functional couches and green rugs that gave the feel of the outdoors. nice place to relax indeed. speaking of food, there’s none to speak of (yeah i was kinda disappointed) besides some biscotti to pair with your coffee. in essence, this place is more for the experience, and perhaps the cafe was more of an afterthought for patrons of the boutique to sit back and have some drinks. i chose a latte (from my previous experience at 40 hands, this was the lightest stuff) and well.. it was decent, but to be honest, i really cannot taste any difference at all.

latte, $6

all in all, a nice place to just come by to chillax and while the afternoon away reading artsy magazines and sipping on decent coffee. hehe, that is if u have some time to spare from work near bukit merah.

pause cafe | 5 jalan kilang S159405 | coffee

german trick or treat

little part 1 cafe is the very definition of hidden find – tucked away at a small road after thomson plaza and sited at a row of smallish shops supporting a cosy neighborhood, its a place you would easily miss unless you knew what you were looking for. the interior is quite cosily decorated, typical of those cafes you would find at a street side in munich.. i say munich because the cafe reminds me distinctly of Germany, what with the paulaner brauhaus beers and a menu featuring food like chicken schnitzel. i particularly like the photo frame wall feature in the cafe, which lends a certain eccentric haphazard charm to the place. i went with my sis on a lazy thursday afternoon where there were a few patrons just chillin’ and whiling afternoon away. quaint.

this being said, the service was tad slow, considering that you really had a slow, linear chain of customers coming in. the dishes took quite a few to come, especially for the dessert. let’s talk about food then.

chicken schnitzel – $18.90

this place isn’t exactly cheap, but the chicken schnitzel was really quite good, especially compared to a the chicken meuniere served at nearby swensens @ thomson plaza. the breaded chicken was crispy and juicy and didn’t feel any bit fattening or oily (unlike say KFC) and the accompanying white wine sauce was an interesting complement to the dish. i was delighted to find that the mashed potatoes had corn in them, which added a nice flavor to what can be quite mundane normally. the salad also was infused with a kind of citrusy vinaigrette which made for a very pleasant meal in general. mind you, this dish is big, so bring an appetite here.

four cheese crepe – $16.90

my sis got the four cheese crepe, which was pretty decent. surprisingly, i don’t see that many restaurants doing much crepes, when its actually a very simple and very common dish in europe.

brownie with vanilla ice cream – $6.50

sadly, the dessert was a disappointing disaster. i suspect the brownie was over-microwaved and hence it was dry, flaky and had a slight plasticky taste, which was kinda sad since i was hoping for something chewy and delicious. the ice cream felt like it was ladled out of a cheap walls ice cream tub and tasted cheap and not at all artisanal (haha i love that word). to be honest, i think a cafe should serve desserts of a certain standard, so its kinda disappointing.

all in all, a decent chill out spot for some German-influenced food. the chicken schnitzel is worth a try, perhaps shared along with some buffalo wings. it’s a little pricey to be honest and the desserts are an abject disappointment. so-so place for me. oh.. but plus points for not having any service charge… maybe that explains for the slower than usual service. 5.5/10

little part 1 cafe | 15 jasmine road, adelphi park estate | german, beers, cafe

boutique beer

i’m starting to really love the duxton hill area, what if the general artsy, designer-ish vibe juxtaposed with the traditional chinatown alleys, the many real cool hiding places and nooks and cranies that have been converted into chic meeting spaces, art galleries and bookstores, and of course, the many interesting food places around. as my dad was driving us around the area, I was excitedly pointing out of the various restaurants i had seen online and had wanted to try, be it buyan, bonheur patisserie and the likes.

anyways, our trip down this time was for group therapy (the place, not the activity). its this small, hidden restaurant/event space run by two charming, efficient ladies  right above etna italian restaurant. its kinda not too conspicuous, considering that its basically one small door tucked within the alleyway, but i guess its cool for what it is. and i liked the fact once you head up and opened the door, it was like heading into a friend’s cosy studio apartment in some boulevard in paris, where you could sit, chill, have some chips and beer whilst staring out at the balcony gazing at the streets below (not that the balcony was open). you know, that kinda feel…\

but yeah, there’s a very homely feel to it, and its also quite a small, cosy place. there is essentially one long communal table along with 3 side tables and a bar counter at the dining area, and a larger event space area filled with cushions and chairs. being a friday night, this place was comfortably crowded, all the tables were filled bar none (which we took =)) and there was an air of cheery merriment due to tgif. ok lets get to the food.

squid-ink ravioli (see that black stripe?) stuffed with mushrooms and topped with a basil/tomato sauce ($20)

this dish was surprisingly refreshing and light what with the mixture of basil, mushroom and tomato sauce. couldn’t really taste out the squid ink from the pasta but overall the dish felt healthy, tasty good and left me wanting more. and hmm, the price point was tad steep for such a dish perhaps (i suspect the ravioli wasn’t cheap) but its good stuff for vegetarians. (methinks an infusion of pine nuts would have made this dish even better)

beef shank stew with carrots and potatoes, paired with 3 pieces of grilled bread ($15)

simple, home-cooked food eh? i think its a real cool concept actually, its like having house-warming with friends and seeing them cook behind the bar counter at the semi-messy stove. to be honest, the food isn’t like outstanding or like pushing culinary innovation or something, but just well-cooked, well-intentioned food. and somehow the notion of pairing delicious-looking grilled bread with stew is something that can never go wrong. hehe.. wish they had gone more along the route of a beef bourguignon and had added a little red wine into the sauce =)

chicken ham and egg pie ($11)

wonder where they bought the pie because the crust was really delicious. (and if they pre-made it, then i really want to know how to make such crusts) the crust was flaky and buttery and overall the pie was yummy. essentially, it’s easy cafe food somewhat like delifrance, but more delicious and better prepared.

belgian waffle with blueberries and starberries, ice cream, almonds and maple syrup ($11.50)

the waffles crust was just right and delicious really good. hehe, though i wish some maple butter was added into the mix to send you to saccharine heaven. =) and on a sidenote, i realise how my family is turning into quite a small-eating, health conscious bunch. i mean, we shared this dessert among four people!! i remember how in Cornell freshmen year, we would totter to RPCC and like make ONE such waffle and drizzle all sorts of condiments, ice cream and fruits and eat it alone. shudders.. no wonder i got fat. =)

but make no mistake. the cakes here are pretty huge. i spied my neighbor’s table 4-layered carrot cake and noticed they took a full hour to work through half of it.. (well and also cos they were “pak tor-ing”) and i noticed the apple crumble was one massive horizontal slice of goodness. so yeah, share your desserts here.

there are also boutique beers and ciders for people to try — its a nice, lighter alternative to the common vino places. you know, seeing such a place makes me really yearn to set up my own cosy eating establishment.. sigh

all in all, a fun, cosy place to relax, have some desserts with friends and just enjoy the atmosphere. i like. =) 7.0/10

group therapy | 49 duxton road, #02-01 | desserts, chill-out, brunch

ehh.. if we followed your advice, we would go broke in an instant.

ya’ know, the problem with food reviewing is that, you start realizing how it all is a comparative exercise, where a multitude of factors can truly affect you taste sophistication, preferences and ultimate judgment of the restaurant. the tastings room suffered from the comparative exercise majorly, considering it came on the heels of restaurant greats such as st pierre and prive. so take the taste review slightly less stringently i suppose?

anyways, this place is nicely located at a relatively untouched location in marina square, not connected directly with the mall inside but is accessed when u head up the escalator from citylink mall at the ground floor and walk across the street. the ambience within is really chill as well, sleek stylish furnishings paired with bold reds and blacks and lights that bathed the restaurant in a orangey-red hue (which really destroyed the photography). this being said, somehow the sophistication felt a little forced and fake at parts, as though an apprentice artist had tried to masterfully copy a masterpiece but left out some rich tones and hues. (in fact yes, that would be how i would summarize the restaurant in general – trying to learn from restaurant greats, achieving around 80% of the effect but not quite)

we sat facing a wine cellar with walls painted in red and stocked wall-to-wall with wines. one thing that annoyed me was how the servers who went in failed to close the door after them, sending a 15 degrees-ish chill out towards us (not a problem) but compromising the temperature to keep the wine! what desecration! and speaking of wines, despite this place’s reputation for serving affordable wine, I found it neither affordable nor in any sense generous. I ordered a Beaujolais (deliciously fruity by the way) for like $13.50 and was given NOT EVEN a full glass but like.. 1/2 a serving of a normal serving of wine. stingy much?

[for Wine FYI: Beaujolais is a very light-bodied red wine from France, made from the Gamay grape. it is usually produced via the process of carbonic maceration, a winemaking technique where whole grapes are fermented in a carbon dioxide rich environment prior to crushing, resulting in a fruity wine low in tannins. To me, this wine is a great wine for wine-tasting beginners and for people who want some sort of compromise between a rich red and a refreshing white.]

ok let’s get on with the food:

white truffle salted house fried, $8.90 (after much photoshop to try and balance the colors and remove the orangey-red hue)

hmm, methinks there’s nothing much special, and certainly not as good as house, barracks and camp‘s rendition ($11). i think the aroma and taste of the truffle was tad too subdued and the resulting fries tasted pretty much just like normal fries.

slow roasted crackling pork belly, $22.90 (they had a 20% discount on this dish, which prompted me to order it)

to be honest, the lights at the place was killing the food presentation. the food lost quite a bit of its inherent appetizing-ness because the light threw a weird hue on the food. hmm, guess this is where the science of design needs to come in and figure out how to complement the food. this said, the pork belly was decently good, juicy at parts and crispy at others, which provided much variety in texture when one worked through it. it also did not feel any bit overly fatty or jelak having a balanced, nuanced flavor profile. methinks it went well with the Beaujolais as well, though it wasn’t recommended in the menu. lol

*    *    *

hmm.. all in all, actually a pretty decent establishment that needs to work out some kinks before it becomes a truly popular joint with amazing food and wine. the price point is decent if you order all their promotional items, as the crayfish pasta went for $13.90 and the sous vide (i suspect the owners went to tott to stock up before setting up a business) sirloin also went for $13.90. in my opinion, this place establishes a middle ground between uninspired chains such as swensens to more atas restaurants like prive. come here for the nice ambience, decent food, but well, skip the wines (what a sacrilege!) cause the price point really doesn’t justify it for now. 6.5/10

the tastings room6 Raffles Boulevard Marina Square #01-08 Singapore 039594 | contemporary, wine, chillout

chillin’ at somerset

oriole cafe + bar is some place that I’ve come across several times whilst walking briskly across the courtyard between 313 and pan pac service suites so well, after a failed attempt to call up spruce for brunch, i decided to bring my sis + parents to oriole cafe and bar, since it seemed like a decent, chill-out spot amidst a slightly drizzly, slow, Saturday afternoon.

the place has a certain industrial contemporary design feel, matching steel furnishings with glass windows to give a modern chill-out ambience that does relax you in a certain way. it indeed serves as a nice chill-out spot amidst the bustling orchard crowds, where you escape within the cool refines of the restaurant and choose to either plop yourself down at the cafe area or at the sleekly designed bar area. ok lets get to the food.

[warm portobello mushroom salad, $13 – paired with pinenuts, arugula, parmesan, tomato salsa]

well i had a prive dinner waiting for me at night, so i wasn’t gonna indulge in anything much so i went for a salad. the portobello was well grilled (though honestly i don’t know much about mushrooms since i normally shrink away from them in disgust. lol) and went well with the argula/pinenut/parmesan combo. i mean honestly, with salads, you really can’t go that wrong (unless ingredients are not fresh) once you know the combination of ingredients they put in (which thankfully they put in the menu) – arugula and pinenuts is a sure-win combo so yeah. and is it me, or am i seeing a growing predominance of arugula being used in restaurants? overall, a decent, satisfying and refreshing salad – just what i wanted.

[beef tagliatelle,  $17, red wine and citrus braised beef cheek, mushroom, shallot oil]

my dad ordered this and he really didn’t like it. beats me, but he felt that the beef had a weird taste to it – which i suppose was due him being unfamiliar with beef cheeks so I sampled it and well, it tasted alright to me, though not as fantastic as what I would have assumed beef cheeks to be. see, the notion of beef cheeks is that, considering cows chew grass aplenty, the cheeks turn out to be the most used muscle in the cow and hence needs a much long time to cook – preferably slow braised in wine till the point its tender and falls into bits when you prod at it. i do agree this tasted somewhat hmm.. plasticky? almost as though someone used a microwave to attempt to speed up the process. hmm, not too impressed. wasn’t impressed with the tagliatelle as well, because it lacked the light and chewy texture that common homemade pastas in italy (like tagliatelle) commonly have.   all in all, kinda a big miss with this dish, which is sad, because this dish, when rendered well, can really be quite the gastronomic experience. i saw this blog for information of beef cheeks and was salivating from the pictures of the beef cheek ragu.

[bangers + mash, $16]

ehh this cafe has gotten me slightly confused. why the inclusion of bar grub suddenly in a menu that was predominantly italian in nature? i looked further down the menu and saw fish & chips (england), st louis pork ribs(US), Jamaican jerk chicken(Jamaica), duck leg confit (france) and moroccan fish tagine (morocco) and well.. decided that this restaurant suffered from the typical Singaporean-grown enterprises of the confused identity. trying to serve too many styles of cuisines at once, which, well to me.. doesn’t seem like too smart an idea. ah well, to each his own. bar grubs cannot really be commented upon since really.. they are just meant to fill you up before your next tankard of ale and lack the nuance of other dishes. felt like this was just alright.

[chilli chocholate mocha, $6 – double ristretto, fresh chilli juice, chocolate, steamed milk]

i read reviews noting that this place was good for their coffee and so i ventured to try one from the competition coffee selection. errr… disappointed. i mean, i really am no expect on coffee as mentioned before, but this felt appealing with the infusion of chilli and the chocolate, a cool combination that is sometimes used for chocolates cakes to give it a tangy, spicy flavor. but this drink just somewhat overpowered by the ristretto. i googled ristretto and learnt that it refers to a very “short” shot of espresso coffee, where the water comes into contact with the coffee grinds for a much shorter time and hence the ratio of caffeine to coffee oils flavor is reduced, giving a bolder, fuller and less bitter coffee. well, i dunno. i didn’t taste much of anything besides a distinct bitterness. so there.

[sticky pudding, $9 – rum, raisins, treacle pudding, vanilla ice cream]

ohh this was good. well, the treacle pudding was good and went really well with what i suspect is a treacle+honeycomb sauce that was heavenly on its own. didn’t really detect the rum and i avoided the raisins (sorry, personal pref) but the vanilla+pudding+sauce was really delicious. this restored some happiness that kinda evaporated whilst i was having my coffee and sampling my dad’s mains. lol

so, a mixed bag overall. oriole cafe + bar is a nice chill out spot after an afternoon/evening of frenetic shopping or something along orchard road. pop by for some desserts, salads or some coffee or mint chocolate and spent a lazy afternoon there chillin’ with friends. but the mains ain’t much to go to town about, and well, the price is kinda elevated, considering you are in the heart of orchard road, so i guess its still acceptable. 6/10

oriole cafe + bar96 Somerset Road #01-01 Pan Pacific Serviced Suites | contemporary, coffee, desserts, chillout

after work chillax.

the exterior reminds u of some club entrance, complete with a separate ladies and VIP queue. (which kind of intimidates me, this pretty much non-club, crowd-avoider guy.. lol) but step it and its a cool, smooth atmosphere using a predominantly black and white color scheme (yes, seems like that is the color code for the waiters/waitresses as well). the place is lit with plasticky chandeliers shimmery with electric red mini-bulbs, creating a nice, other-worldly ambience. i like. (well, in general i like places that transport you to another place) and yeah, the menu is a gilded photo frame.

though honestly you don’t really need the menu. what i like about the place is the way drinks are ordered. you don’t typically specify the drink you want (well, unless you are adamant about it). you simply tell the earnest, fresh-looking bartender what kind of drink-mood you are in, and well, expect something nice to your tastes. our orders ranged from “fruity, off-sweet”, to “smooth and sensual.. -_-” to stuff like “surprise me”. pretty cool, cos its similar to how i would love to set up a wine bar and go asking patrons what sort of a drink-mood they are in, and give them the wine of their choice, viz:

in a mood for a dark, robust adventure? head for the brunello di montalcino

need something girly, chocolaty and giggly? here, have some rosa regale (rose champagne) or moscato for starters

such stuff is fun. =)


anyways, back to my order.. i was quite noobly stumped actually cos i didn’t know what drink mood i was in. i specified something off-sweet, not exactly fruity and errm when the earnest bartender asked what sort of errm spirits i liked i was stumped. honestly, i really don’t know even what counts as spirits and so on, or what exactly counts as a girly drink and what is a guys drink. someone needs to pull me aside and teach me i think. all i know is that i like belvedere vodka cos it is smooth and that i think barcardi 151 tastes like how i would imagine castor oil would taste. lol

anyways, my rubbishy order actually conjured out something decently, the dawa, apparently some off-sweet (bingo) liquor (i missed hearing it.. martini?) with an infusion of honey and a little lime to give a sweet-sour refreshing taste. good stuff. well, good enough. i’m intrigued and ready to try more next time.

mind you, this place ain’t cheap. my drink came up to $18 a glass, but for the decent service, nice chillax ambience, adventurous ordering. i guess it’s worth coming for a nice chill out sesh with friends. see you there soon.

drink culture | 50 kreta ayer road | chill-out, drinks