Sunday, November 30, 2014

Singapore 2014 - Lunch at Bumbu

One of the new areas that is gaining popularity for restaurants and cafes is Kandahar Road. This is in Kampung Glam - the popular Muslim enclave between Beach Road and Victoria Street. Bumbu is an interesting concept. It is an Indonesian-Thai restaurant - with Peranakan flavours thrown in for good measure. Once you walk in the door you are greeted with lots of beautiful period Peranakan furniture. 

The ground floor dining area is quite small - but it is the 1st floor dining space that is the gem. It is a really nice feeling to be surrounded by museum-quality period furniture and objet d'art. 

My friend was the host for this lunch, so he had ordered a selection of their most popular dishes - with a bit of everything from the Indonesian, Thai and Peranakan menu. All these 3 cuisines are big on flavours and not shy on their seasonings - so we were in for a sensory treat.

We started with some appetizers - first up was a salad of eggs and potato - a popular Indonesian dish. The peanut sauce would be familiar to those who have tried satay - it has the same flavour profile. 

The 2nd appetizer was Tahu Telor - a tofu and egg salad. It sounded simple but is actually a bit more complex - the egg has been deepfried until crispy - the tofu is also deepfried but still tender inside. Served with a rojak sauce which has a nice balance of sweet, sour and umami - for me this was the dish of the day as it had interesting textures, flavours and hits all the right notes.

Pandan Chicken - a Thai staple, and this was a good version.

Steamed fish with spicy lime sauce - for me this dish was the least exciting. The food was good - but the sauce lacked complexity and flavour kick.

Pomelo salad. Very fresh prawns and nice pomelo, but the sauce was a bit too sweet.

Thai-style fried rice. This was a deluxe version of the usual pineapple fried rice - augmented with prawns and cashew nuts. It was very good.

Bumbu was a pleasant surprise. At first the combination of Thai, Indonesian and Peranakan cuisines sounded like it could be a mash-up of flavours, but the dishes do work together very well. The Peranakan infused ambiance of the restaurant is nice and cosy, and the pricing is quite reasonable by Singapore standards. Definitely a good place to dine.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Singapore 2014 - Clarke Quay Revisited

Since I had a bit of time before my dinner appointment, I decided to revisit another original hotspot - Clarke Quay. When it first opened Clarke Quay generated a lot of buzz - not least for the quirky architectural interventions by British architect Will Alsop. It was his first major project in Asia at the time - and the signature sci-fi and cartoonish design was quite a contrast to the usually staid and some would say boring designs in Singapore at the time. I still remember there was a themed restaurant there called The Clinic or The Hospital - where the decor was like an operating theatre and the waitstaff dress in hospital uniforms - and it caused quite a bit of scandal.

Walking around Clarke Quay today - not a lot has changed - except that most of the outlets are new or at least I could not recognize them. This project was done at a time when architectural conservation in Singapore meant taking over a place wholesale - stripping everything out and redoing everything in a homogeneous "heritage" style. The supposed old buildings show a lack of detail and depth - and on the whole there is a cardboardy theme-park feel to the place. The umbrella-like insertions by Alsop provide much needed shade from the elements - while at the same time made the place look a lot more interesting then it otherwise would have been.

Along the river Alsop had introduced covered terraces that look like colourful boats - echoing the wooden boats that used to ply these waterways.  Today these have been converted into leisure boats taking tourists for leisure cruises on the river.

The mix of outlets at Clarke Quay is more clubs and pubs for the drinking crowd - not really my scene.I won't be in a hurry to go back.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Singapore 2014 - CHIJMES Revisited

I first visited CHIJMES many years ago - when I was taken to one of the hottest Vietnamese restaurants in town. I can't even remember the name now, but during this recent visit I noticed that it wasn't there anymore. Of all the outlets I saw at CHIJMES - I could only remember Lei Garden Chinese Restaurant - the rest all looked new.

CHIJMES is quite an unusual project. It is located right in the middle of the city - just opposite the Raffles City complex. The name CHIJMES is an acronym of the original name of the place - Convent of The Holy Infant Middle Education School - it was originally a girl school. The old buildings have all been restored and adopted for the new uses - including the chapel in the middle of the complex. Surrounding the chapel building is a large plaza which provides some respite from the crowded city. 

Besides the Chinese restaurant - most of the other outlets here are quite International. There is even an entire street dedicated to Japanese food. If you are looking for Singaporean food - you would be out of luck. It was a bit too early for dinner so I did not try out any of the establishments this time -  but judging from the setup I would say it is targeted mostly at the expat crowd.

The highlight of the whole complex is the chapel.

 It is now used as a multi-purpose hall - ideal for weddings.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Singapore 2014 - Zhen Zhen Porridge at Maxwell Food Centre

Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown is one of the most popular food courts in Singapore. The famous Tian Tian Chicken Rice is there - and there is always an impossibly long queue. Another famous stall is Zhen Zhen Porridge which I have not tried before until this recent trip. We went quite early - but there was already quite a long queue. It took around 30min to reach our turn. 

Can you see the huge pot where they cook the porridge ? It even had an industrial-grade motorized stirrer. 

Zhen Zhen specializes in fish and chicken porridge. We went the whole hog and ordered the Fish, Chicken and Century Egg porridge.The porridge here is "Teochew" style where you can still feel the grains of the rice - unlike the Cantonese version which is a lot more gooey. On the whole the texture is very nice - but was the taste worth the wait ? I would say no - it was quite mild in taste and just didn't have the flavour kick that I was expecting. 

They also serve "Teochew" style shashimi - slices of fresh fish served with a vegetable salad, light sesame dressing and lime juice. Again this lack any distinct flavour that make it stand out. A good - but not great dish.


Unlike Tian Tian which is the real deal when it comes to chicken rice - Zhen Zhen proved to be a bit of a disappointment as the porridge - though good - wasn't really great enough to warrant the long wait.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Singapore 2014 - Ann Siang Hill

Ang Siang Hill - just off the Chinatown main street of South Bridge Road - is one of the latest hot spots in Singapore. The Chinese name of the street - "Ann Siang" - literally translates as peace and quiet. In the old days it was probably an exclusive residential enclave for the rich and famous - peaceful and tranquil. If you visit during the day it is still a hidden sanctuary - but at night it totally transforms into a different beast.

There are so many pubs, restaurants and cafes here in a relatively small area - literally every available shop has been turned into an F&B outlet. And the range is also quite impressive - from wine bars to Pan-Asian restaurants, French bistros, Spanish tapas, Italian trattoria, etc. 

At night the quiet streets transform into an entirely different scene. I don't think I have seen so many people standing on the streets in other parts of the Island.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Singapore 2014 - Bread & Hearth Artisanal Bakery

While wondering around on Keong Saik Road, I came across this interesting-looking bakery called Bread & Hearth. It looked liked it just opened not too long ago. Once you go inside, the smell of freshly baked bread is intoxicating, and they do have lots of beautiful-looking bread - like those I thought you could only find in Europe. I was impressed and decided to stop there for a break.

Their breads look really great.

They do pastries too - but no cakes. 

Besides selling the bread for take-outs, they also operate as a cafe. I ordered a cappuccino and a salted caramel tart and it was good - though not great. Its a pity as I did not have room in the tummy to try the bread - but next trip !