I never noticed how beautiful the night lights could be at the fringes of the CBD, until I had dinner one night at Nuvo Kitchen + Bar, sitting pretty at the end of Custom House’s restaurant row, with a much more luxurious setting compared to their previous digs at Marina Square.
We shared: meatballs with home made tagliolini, duck liver carbonara, pan seared cod with bonito flakes and pistachio crusted lamb chops. The Japanese-influenced concept they’re going for comes up in bits and pieces, but its otherwise a very decent Italian meal. I didn’t care much for the meatball pasta, finding the tomato-based sauce way too tangy for my tastes, but was impressed by the complex flavours achieved in the carbonara and cod sauces. Both were replete with umami notes, the former supported by a rich, rounded but not overly creamy base, and the latter a medley of fish stock and capers. The lamb chops were nicely medium rare, not too gamey, and accompanied by some whipped polenta to lighten up one’s overall palate.
Prices were a little on the high side, so using the Entertainer app really eased the pinch. An otherwise delicious meal; ask for a table by the floor-to-ceiling glass walls for a view of Marina Bay to act as the stunning backdrop to your night.
If you haven’t already heard, the latest bistro-cafe to sprout along North Canal Road is the stylishly secluded Punch, with a minimalist exterior that belies a very hip courtyard reminiscent of the now-closed Omotesando Koffee’s outdoor seating area in Tokyo.
Opened by the same good folks behind The Bravery, The Plain and Ronin (my go-to morning espresso stop), very decent coffee is a given. They offer only pour overs in the early morning, so as not to compete with Ronin, but switch up the beans every now and then – I’ve had Ethiopian, Columbian and Sumatran varietals each with their own distinct flavour profiles. Order some freshly made doughnuts if you’d like a sweet start to your day.
It’s not all about coffee though, as a compact menu offers modern takes on old classics. Some friends and I enjoyed a mountain of steamed mussels in a slightly spicy broth, accompanied by excellent sourdough soldiers. The chicken tsukune burger came with a raw egg yolk to be ceremoniously squished between a medley of brioche buns, cucumber slivers and a slightly bitter grilled chicken patty, half from the marinade and half from the char. Fried chicken, first brined to retain moisture, is accompanied by an addictive blue cheese dip, tomato marmalade, pickles and gherkins.
I do find the food offerings a tad overpriced, but appreciate that they do serve coffee late into the night, and the space and its people are charmingly hospitable. Now if only they would let me order – and devour – an army of sourdough toast…
This last-minute posting looks set to be a new trend. Work is intriguing, but also pretty time consuming, and feasting occasions thin out. That makes us really picky about the places we choose to dine at, and high expectations abound.
We skipped down to Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse on the back of rave reviews about their fiorentina steak, along with fond memories of the monster we happily devoured a couple years back in Florence. The marvelous aged flavours of the surprisingly pink wagyu really came through, a quirky fermented base flavour lingering on the palate. A Scottish Black Angus ribeye faded into the background when eaten alongside it. Also a standout was a rabbit tortellini, parmesan and black truffle dish – an earthy mix of deep, homey flavours that was thoroughly satisfying.
Along with great hits also came thorough disappointments, the pork being one of them in particular. Perhaps the source of the pork nudges its chefs to err on the side of caution and leave it a minute or two longer on the grill, but the cutlet came to us too dried out for our liking, despite having a beautiful char. An oxtail ragout tagliatelle was more mushroom than oxtail. The squid ink and crab meat pasta was decent, with hints of fennel, but otherwise nothing to shout about.
Bistecca does beef pretty well, but the less carnivorous amongst your company would do well to temper their expectations as to the other dishes.
The 60 minutes that every frazzled executive looks forward to in a day filled with emails, meetings and phone calls – the hallowed lunch hour! Who can afford to spend time pondering over where to dine, especially when seats fill up faster than you can say “chope”?
Here’s a quick compilation of the food options available in and around Raffles Place, Shenton Way and Marina Bay. I’ve tried to classify them the best I can; do leave a comment if you have any to add!
Quick, cheap, fuss-free lunches – for when the work never seems to end
Golden Shoe Hawker Centre – $2.50 Hainanese curry rice, fish soup, wanton mee (2nd floor); rather pricey Peranakan mixed rice, popiah, ipoh hor fun (3rd floor)
May Hua Food Court – at one end of Golden Shoe car park, with very decent porridge, fish soup, chicken rice and $0.60 mini char siew baos / assorted dim sum
109 Teochew Yong Tau Foo, 90 Circular Road – great variety, tasty laksa and clear soup bases, seating for large groups available
Pontian Wanton Mee, 57 Circular Road – a decent bowl of wanton mee in dark sauce with a bowl of soup for $4
Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang, 13 Circular Road – delicious nasi padang served on real banana leaf, introduced to me by the vivacious secretaries. Especially love the achar and bergedil!
The Arcade Fish Soup, #01-35 The Arcade –legendary fish soup bee hoon at Hup Lee Cafeteria, especially with a generous serving of fried garlic. Seating near impossible to find. The neighbouring cai png / mixed rice is pretty delicious too.
The Arcade’s 1st floor – also houses great herbal soup, chicken rice, fruit stalls, Bengawan Solo and Maki-san!
Asia Square Food Court
Lau Pa Sat
Hock Lam Beef Noodles, 6 North Canal Road – beef done in a variety of ways, swimming in an umami rich stock made all the better by preserved salted vegetables and cincalok (fermented shrimp).
Aussie Roll, Change Alley Basement – bastardised maki with more rice than toppings keeps you real full on a small budget. Rolls 3 for 2 after 6pm!
Lanna Thai Restaurant, 66 Boat Quay – for big groups, its zichar with a Thai twist. Unless you really don’t want to share that plate of morning glory, of course.
Fancier fast food
Grain Traders, 138 Market Street – pricey “ang-moh cai png”, but the tuna tataki with brown rice, furikake and miso caramel is one of my favourite combinations
&SONS, 20 Cross Street – decent Italian fare at great prices; average $12 for a pasta lunch
Sarnies, 136 Telok Ayer Street – great sandwiches on lovely chewy bread, accompanied by a good cup of coffee to tide you over the mini post-lunch food coma
Cedele, Golden Shoe / Ocean Financial Centre / Chevron House – rosemary chicken wholemeal sandwich? Comfort food! Multiple locations are always a plus.
Dome, UOB Plaza 1 – for when you’re in a real pinch and can’t go further than the office lobby…very decent chicken avocado panini. One day I’ll try the muffins.
Kraftwich by Swissbake, 1 Raffles Place basement – wholegrain croissants stuffed with a variety of charcuterie, for when you want to eat healthy but not really
The Moomba Tuckshop, 4 Battery Road – great sandwiches
The Salad Shop, 80 Raffles Place – DIY salads in generous servings
Ok, so I got a little bit lazy towards the end. This is no definitive Raffles Place food guide, but I’ll keep updating it as and when I try new places out! Hopefully this’ll cut down the decision-making time by just that little bit more.
Impressive bread – thyme brioche, sourdough, pumpkin focaccia with french butter and lard
Pine-smoked egg with ‘forgotten vegetables’
Smoked Hokkaido saba
Aquitane rainbow trout with pork belly
Beautiful petit fours
Hida A5 wagyu beef rolls with mushroom ketchup
Last month, on a whim, I made a booking at Odette – the highly anticipated National Gallery offering by former Jaan chef Julien Royer – which turned out to be an exceptionally great decision on hindsight. The bright spark in between two weeks of an awful mycoplasma infection, we followed up this meal with an insightful tour around the National Gallery with my aunt, who volunteers as a docent there (the tours are highly recommended!).
Some intricately complex flavours can be savoured in each of the 6 courses we had on a balmy Saturday afternoon. I loved Royer’s play on beetroot, save for the dehydrated permutation which tasted too much like fizzy-pop candy that I stayed away from during my childhood. His skill with pickling was also pretty impressive, with translucent slivers of root vegetables turning up innocuously on a couple of dishes to balance out some of the heavier elements. Also a favourite was the heady smokiness of the saba, paired with eggplant and raddichio, as well as a creatively assembled lemon meringue tart for petit fours. And the bread of course – I devoured almost every piece.
While overall consistently good, the Hida wagyu could have done with a touch more complementary spicy greens. As the beef was sliced thinly, then bundled up into rolls seared medium rare, none of the fat was removed. The result was little ecosystem of oil steadily heaving towards the edges of my plate. The wonderful pumpkin focaccia however helped to alleviate an overtly greasy mouthfeel.
We rounded off the meal with a beautifully light pear mille-feuille, accompanied by salted caramel and its ice cream iteration. An indulgent lunch, with little fault in each dish, but nothing quite intense enough to make it extremely memorable, though the ambience and service work hard to fill that gap. Nevertheless, I think I’ll be back!
I’ve been scouring the local dining scene for a good rendition of pasta ricci di mare – sea urchin pasta – but I’m not sure anything can top the deliciousness of L’altroBaffo’s version, wiped very clean one balmy afternoon in Otranto, a whitewashed seaside town at the heel of Italy. 5 days in Puglia this past May really wasn’t enough, but thanks to a perfectly food obsessed traveling partner (hello Andrea!), I think we got a good feel of the region’s gastronomic offerings. Down south, “Italian food” takes on an entirely different interpretation, with an emphasis on vegetable variety and fresh seafood. Here, I share some of our highlights.
1. Osteria Calvi, Altamura
When an Altamura native promises you “the best meal of your life”, you take it seriously. Tender, succulent baby lamb basted with a herb and tomato based broth, crunchy sweet langoustines, and an indulgent serving of the house signature ‘Peperomisu’ – traditional tiramisu with a touch of earthy, tart peppercorn – make for an incredible, unforgettable meal. Osteria Calvi is where homely food is given a refined twist; everything was excellent, topped off with a glass or two of Puglian red.
Tucked away in the heart of the Sassi district, Ristorante Soul Kitchen was a dream of a find. I’ve never had grains cooked so deliciously, each al dente bite coated with a light, intense pea puree-broth that harmonised beautifully with lashings of the local olive oil. Fried food never tasted so good in the form of creamy ricotta fritters, set off by a tart balsamic reduction. This was part of the chef’s antipasti selection, which also included beef carpaccio topped with black truffle shavings, addictive crispy baby onions fried into little blooms, and a great selection of charcuterie and cheese.
If you love cheese, this place is an absolute must. The third-generation of the Dicecca family now helm this cheese atelier along the busy streets of Altamura, churning out innovative, artisanal and healthy dairy products. Just as well, since they’ve already perfected their traditional recipes – the morning’s batch of stracciatella, streaked over a slice of freshly baked focaccia from the corner bakery, was an absolute revelation. We carted off two tubs of their house yogurt in blueberry and peach flavours, preservative and white sugar free, and packed with natural goodness. Any doubts about not being able to finish them all but disappeared one short train ride later.
The Salento region is well known for its sea urchin, and of course we couldn’t pass up a plate of carbonara ai ricci di mare. L’altroBaffo, sitting stylishly on the slopes of the popular seaside town of Otranto, makes a pretty lip-smacking version. We also had a raw seafood antipasti, paired with mango and raspberry coulis, as well as a refined, flavourful version of the traditional claypot stewed octopus. Interestingly, while Japanese sashimi often focuses on fat for maximum flavour, Italians seemed to prefer their raw fish to have more of a crunch. Delicious either way!
We were afraid that this place would be a tourist trap, since their menu came in 5 languages. But the antipasti selection sounded too good to pass up, which explains how we ended up with 16 plates coming in wave after wave to the applause of the patrons at the next table. I loved the battered zucchini flowers in particular, though some of the hot antipasti were served at room temperature. Our main dish of lamb chops however, well seasoned and lightly grilled, was delicious.
A hugely popular restaurant in Alberobello, with both locals and tourists alike, led to our last ditch attempt at making a reservation and scoring a table only at 10pm. Not that it was hard to find stomach space for a homely, rustic dish of saffron and pork cheek pasta, as well as a tasty spread of homemade sausages and house cured ham. Service was a tad indifferent, but the food was packed with flavour and the place lively enough for us to overlook this. Reservations are essential.
7. L’Osteria di Chichibio Ristorante, Polignano A Mare
It’s not easy to sort out your cravings when only one place can serve your final meal in Puglia. But we gravitated towards seafood, driven by a desire to have one last plate of sea urchin pasta. Unfortunately, this dish must be reserved for dinner as they only offer it during lunch! The snooty waiter offered raw scorpion fish as an alternative, which we gamely tried though it’s honestly not a true substitute at all. The fish tasted exceptionally clean, fresh and crunchy, pairing well with a squeeze of lemon and a dab of sea salt. We loved the zucchini pasta that we ordered instead – each strand of linguine coated in an umami-packed parmesan and seafood broth reduction.
Especially memorable was a couple at the next table, whose son fell asleep some way into the second course, yet they powered on for another 4 courses or so, ending with a beautifully extravagant lobster. Italian parenting done right!
A visual feast is what an elegant sushi meal always doubles up as. Ashino, a new-ish sushi restaurant located at Chijmes, ticks all the right boxes for multiple reasons: aged fish with great flavour, a focus on sushi, and pearly rice grains at a perfect temperature, especially when contrasted with creamy Hokkaido bafun uni and well-seasoned ikura. The shari, cooked with water air-flown from Mt Fuji, isn’t as heavy on the vinegar as Shinji, and each neta satisfies a little more than Sushi Ichi in terms of flavour concentration relative to its size.
Sushi chef Taku Ashino-san lorded imposingly over our meal, perhaps because we were the last two diners on a rainy Friday afternoon. He seemed to lighten up a little more as it progressed, explaining that the difficult balancing act involving precise amounts of vinegar was what made a piece of kohada (gizzard shard) the reflection of a sushi chef’s skills, along with tamagoyaki. My favourites, at the end of 12 pieces, were that, nodoguro (black throat sea perch), ootoro (fatty tuna belly) and kinmedai (golden eye sea bream).
A gem of a meal, and a great way to celebrate the end of the bar examinations! I’m already dreaming of a return visit. Thank you Amos for being great company as always.