There was something about November and Mercury being in retrograde that made it a month of very dull eating. New places failed to excite and old favourites disappointed.
Kaisan (1/9). The food was good, but it takes a blind, deaf and dumb person not to realise that this place is not doing well. There were out of uni by a Friday evening. Johnson was on an indefinite 'sabattical' leave. The sushi counter was manned by Chef Eric whom we felt lacked a certain delicate touch with planning and presentation. Chef Thomas was in the small cooking area where Johnson used to be, and although he made efforts to socialise, he also seemed rather disheartened.
Sapporo Noodles, Miharu. While the professionals with long credentials and hard-earned experience struggle with their fine-dining venture, this tiny noodle place tacked to one corner of The Gallery Hotel was doing roaring business. It has acquired a cult-like following, and having failed to get in previously, I was curious to see what the fuss was about. We came early, put our names on the book and waited.
Proceeded to order their two most popular selection- a cold noodle with house special soup and a hot Tokusen soup noodle. Both did not live up to our expectations. The noodles very springy but my house special soup was covered with an unappetising layer of oil while husband complained that his soup was too robust and devoid of any subtleties. The side order of char-siew was equally disappointing but this time my complaint was its dryness and toughness- don't think Japanese char-siew is meant to work the jaws too much. Service was mechanical and charmless. Sitting at the counter and being so close to the heat of the stoves was a bad idea too. I observed heavy handed use of Korean miso paste. The bill, an exorbitant 40 plus dollars for 2 noodles, char siew and iced tea.
The only good thing to came out of that lunch was my purchase of some scrummy bread from nearby Simply Bread .
Auntie Kim's. (2/3) The bbq beef ribs were not as nice as CJ, this place cuts it too thick. Kimchi tofu soup was good. Bibimbap was boring, for a non-meat bap I expected a more interesting mix of vegetables or seeds. We should just stick to japjae next time.
Sun with Moon Japanese Dining & Cafe, CHIJMES. This restaurant is part of the Suntory stable, and in keeping with the brand image, the space was beautiful and stylish. Too bad the owners did not invest the same care with their food. Sashimi of binchon maguro? What provenance was this? Neither the waitress nor the counter staff could elucidate. The fish, when it came, was pale and unexciting. A selection of sashimi did not meet our expectations, i.e. fresh and tasty- the ark shell was certainly out of its shell for some time it had started to smell a little fishy. The shimaji and fantail clams sashimi was fine but nothing that says wow to us. Sushi, new age style with avocados or mangoes were more pleasing. The house specialty of kamemashi is like a refined version of our local claypot rice and we enjoyed the version that we ordered, with edamame, chestnuts and crab leg. For dessert, the dango was too hard and they were very mean with the soy powder that accompanied the mochi. Overall, this is a pleasing place to go to for new-style japanese dishes as long as it does not involve top-grade sashimi.
Romantic Kobe, United Square. Nothing romantic about plastic chairs, strip lighting and garden tables. Fast-food tonkatsu joint. Rosu Katsu rice with curry was adequate, the pork fillet nicely breaded but the meat itself a little too dry. Husband complained that the beef in his beef curry was absolutely tasteless.
Penang Kitchen, Coronation Arcade. From time to time, we cut out newspaper clippings of restaurant reviews and put it into a mental checklist for trying out and this was one of them. The Char Kway Teow was excellent, a little oily but plenty of wok hei discernible within the tasty noodles. Everything else that we ordered failed. The signature Lor Bak was mainly fatty pork pieces parts smothered to death in 5-spice powder. Sago Gula Melaka came with lumpy foamy coconut milk, an absolute no-no for me.
Pontini (1/4). Our fourth visit this year, and a rather disappointing meal it was. I waited 30 minutes for a salad of grilled frozen prawns and tough squid. The truffle dishes were exorbitantly expensive ($75 for just the truffle alone, per person) but uninspired. The kitchen seemed to be operating on snooze mode that evening. Chestnut charlotte with whisky sauce had no perceptible taste of chestnuts or whisky. When I quizzed the waiter, he sheepishly mumbled something about "only a little" put in, so that it is OK for kids to eat. The same principle applied too, he gave as an example, to tiramisu. Well, that seemed like complete BS to me, considering they charge adult prices for them. I am writing this place off.
Lau Hock Guan Kee Bah Kut Teh, 328, Joo Chiat Rd. One Sunday afternoon we were in the Joo Chiat area and I had a fancy for the gorgeous baby squids from My Mum's Place. But the place was apparently sold out of it, even at the early hour of 5.30 pm. Consoled myself with a fish-head curry meal next door. Their BKT is so-so, but their fish head curry is cooked with plenty of assam to make a thick and spicy gravy and the fish was lightly cooked to let its fresh sweetness come through.
Manna Korean Restaurant, somewhere near Telok Ayer. Was in the neighbourhood and popped in on impulse. The ban-chan selection was wider (seaweed not included, that was my extra order) and the Dolsot bimbimbap very satisfying.
Ichiban (1/7): Good old standby for lunch. I usually order their cooked dishes or pull one or two sushi plates like unagi or soft-shell crab.
Blood Cafe (1/5): My chicken sandwich was too large and dry, so I gave that up in favour of a tart filled with peanut buttery goodness. It was also very large but so decadent and yummy I could not resist finishing it.
Shang Palace, Shangri-La Hotel. Farewell lunch for a colleague. This grand restaurant has seen better days. The first thing I observed was the person who guarded the entrance. In most fine dining restaurants, this person would be very pleasant, very attentive and capable of handling many awkward situation. The person on duty that day did not give the expected impression, she gestured extravagantly and her speech was coarse and graceless. It happened also that on that day, there was a large contingent of Japanese tourist accompanied by their self-conscious and very loud tour guide. Her well-meaning instructions shattered the calm of the place and I was surprised that the management did not have the foresight to place the group in another area to allow other diners more privacy.
To make things worse, the food was not up to standard and we were compelled to complain to the captain at the end of the meal. Every dish was executed badly. We had ordered the usual items, nothing too challenging for a restaurant of their supposed calibre. Peking duck was dry and the pancake wrapper even drier. Soon hock was over-steamed. Crispy noodles were soggy and the fish slices tough and fishy. Steamed Dong-Po Rou was a misnomer, the belly pork had in fact had all the juiciness and fats cooked out of its every pore. Desserts were in general overly sweet, and steamed egg with ginger juice turned out hard instead of custardy. Oh dear.
Penang Place (1/8): I took same colleague here for her farewell lunch. No surprises here. Consistently good. Or is it because it is the only restaurant within the IBP campus?
That's about it, a month of very dull eating. I am yawning just typing this out.