Friday, October 31, 2014

Singapore 2013 - No Signboard Seafood at Geylang

My friends were treating me to dinner and I requested for the famous Singapore chili crab. Every self-respecting seafood restaurant in Singapore would claim to serve the best chili crab, but my friends told me one of the more consistent restaurants to actually deliver is No Signboard Seafood at Geylang. So we headed to the more colourful corner of town where most visitors are not there for the food.

No Signboard is a typical Chinese seafood restaurant where the emphasis is on the food and not the decor. In fact the bright fluorescent light tend to make everything look rather unappetizing. But when it comes to flavours, they actually deliver.

We started with a humble-looking dish - deep fried kailan leaves. It was actually very good - the kailan which is normally a bit bitter has taken on some sweetness from the deep frying.

Next came the prawns with salad sauce. I've had this same dish countless times back in Malaysia, and No Signboard's version is quite good.

The steamed fish was very fresh and perfectly cooked, and had the typical Cantonese steam fish sauce used in most seafood restaurants.

The homemade tofu was another familiar dish done very well here.

Finally came the chili crab. Crab is normally served last as you need to use your hands and it can get quite messy. I have to say this was one tasty crab dish - the sauce had just a hint of sweetness and heat from the chili, and it was thickened with egg white. A great sauce for dipping the accompanying deep fried buns. 

Whenever I go to a Chinese seafood restaurant whether in Malaysia or Singapore, I can't help thinking that all the chefs have been to the same cooking school. You get almost similar dishes, and the flavours are also very similar. It would be great if some of them can be more inventive in their cooking - but then customers would probably complain that they are not getting what they expected. You just can't please everyone !

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Singapore 2013 - W Hotel

W Hotels has arrived in Singapore, and it is at Sentosa Cove. This 43rd W Hotel features 240 rooms and a huge leisure-style outdoor pool. All the W staples such as Woo Bar, The Kitchen Table and Away Spa are here, including the Whatever/Whenever Concierge service.

W Hotels are known for their funky and cutting-edge designs, but the one in Singapore seem to be a bit more toned down compared to the other Ws. In fact the lobby could pass off as a Westin lobby.

The rooms are nicely appointed and spacious. and feature great views of the cove with all the million-dollars apartments.

It is a great hotel to stay in with all the amenities you could ever want - and the rates are down-right reasonable compared to similar hotels on the Island. The only problem is if you want to go shopping which is a hassle as there is no direct MRT link. The nearest MRT is at Vivocity.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Singapore 2013 - Lucha Loco

A friend introduced us to Lucha Loco - a gourmet Mexican restaurant in the Duxton Hill area which has been creating quite a buzz in the Singapore food scene since opening not too long ago. The restaurant is in a detached shophouse with a garden terrace on the side - a very rare find in land scarce Singapore. We were very happy to be placed on the garden terrace as it was quite a pleasantly cool evening. A pleasant surprise was they were celebrating the Day of the Dead - and all the waiters and waitresses were made up with ghost faces.

Lucha Loco doesn't take bookings except for groups over 12 people, and with groups you need to go for the group menu which is not too bad as it includes most of the popular items from the normal menu. The food concept is based on Mexican street food, but taken up a few notches with quality ingredients and inventive cooking. I am happy to report that the food at Lucha Loco is really good, most of the dishes were delicious and a few were exceptional.

One of their must have items is Elotes - Mexican street style grilled corn. The sweet corn is rolled in mayo and then in Cotija cheese and sprinkled with chili. This is the best grilled corn I have ever tasted.

I also loved the Octopus and Prawn Ceviche which had a nice balance of flavours and tartness that excited the palates. 

All the tostaditas are good but the stand out was the crab with habanero oil, avocado and scallion. 

The New Zealand Rib Eye tostaditas was also very good and looked very pretty on the plate.

You must have tacos at a Mexican restaurant, and the best one was the Pork Belly Taco with jicama and cilantro mayo. The pork belly was melt in your mouth and very flavourful. Suggest you order a double serving or you will be fighting over it.

Compared to the pork belly, the Baja Fish Taco was a bit pedestrian.

They also have some more substantial dishes for sharing. The New Zealand Rib Eye Steak on cactus and chimichurri sauce was wonderfully tender and packed with big flavours from the sauce. 

The pork ribs with chipotle-honey glaze and pickled onions was even better. The meat was smoky, sticky, tender and falling off the bone.

They have limited dessert selections here but make sure you order the blue corn cake with agave nectar and mezcal cream. The cake has an interesting crunchy texture from the corn, and combines beautifully with the smooth mezcal cream.

Lucha Loco is a surprise find in Singapore. It has great ambiance, the diners all seem to be out for a good time and enjoying themselves, and the food is delicious.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Singapore 2013 - Gardens By The Bay

I haven't visited Singapore for a while, then all of a sudden had to make 2 trips there in the past few months. It is always nice to visit our upmarket neighbour, except that the exchange rate can really put a big dent in the wallet. Singapore is now officially the most expensive city in the World - and if you check the hotel rates you would totally agree.

On the surface not much has changed since my last visit which was around 2 years back, but if you look closer you will see that the island is undergoing some deep transformations, both in positive and negative ways. On the positive side - lots of quirky shops, cafes, restaurants are popping up everywhere, and Singapore is beginning to see the emergence of creative cultural endeavours and alternative lifestyles which makes the city a more interesting place to visit. On the negative side - the island is just getting too crowded, and certain parts of the city are bursting at the seams, and others are beginning to show their rough edges.

One of the most exciting new additions on the island is the Gardens By The Bay. I missed it during the last visit, and this trip it was on the top of my list. The main attractions there are the supertrees and the flower domes. The supertrees are quite amazing to look at - it is a clever mix of high-technology and nature, and the colour scheme and design strangely reminded me of the movie Avatar.

There are 2 huge glass domes at Gardens By the Bay. Once is called the Flower Dome, the other the Cloud Forest. The Flower Dome is a cool-dry conservatory which replicates the climate of Mediterranean and semi-desert regions. It features plants from those regions including palm trees, olive groves, cacti, etc. In the middle of the dome is the Flower Field where the flower display change according to the season. 

I found the Cloud Forest more interesting and impressive compared to the Flower Dome. The Cloud Forest features plants from tropical highlands up to 2,000 feet above sea level. Right in the middle of the dome is a huge cylindrical structure fully covered in plants, with a number of waterfalls at different heights. To visit the display you enter into the cylindal and make your way to the top, and a series of floating sky-walks take you round the vertical walls to view the beautiful display of plants. The suspended sky-walks are quite an experience in themselves -  and definitely not for those who suffer from vertigo.

It cost SGD 28 to enter both the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest (locals pay only SGD 20) which is one of the best bargains you can get in Singapore nowadays.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Penang 2013 - Dinner at Il Bacaro

For our last dinner in Penang, we decided to revisit Il Bacaro where we had a very nice meal during our last visit. Located on the ground floor of a stylish boutique hotel - Campbell House on Campbell Road - the decor is very nicely done in a modern Italian style and very cosy.

Il Bacaro is not just an Italian restaurant - but a Venetian restaurant. We were very happy to know that they serve Cicchetti - Venetian small bites. We ordered the Chef's Selection of 6 small dishes to try. These great small dishes included a tomato bruschetta, deep fried calamari, meatballs, omelette with shrimps, sauted clams in garlic and herbs, grilled veggies, and croquettes.It was a feast for the eyes and the senses.

For mains we had a Spaghetti with Gamberi and Zucchine (Prawns and Courgettes). This tasted really clean and fresh, with the sweetness coming from the fresh prawns and zucchini.

Four Seasons Pizza is not on the menu, but the chef happily obliged with this tasty creation. Unfortunately we were not able to finish this as we were already quite stuffed after the Cicchetti course and the pasta. We took half of it back to the hotel and had it for breakfast the next morning - and it was still good.

If you are in Penang, you owe it to yourself to head over to Il Bacaro. It could be one of your best meals on the island.