The front entrance opens into a cosy dining room bathed in a golden glow, accentuated by yellow drapes hanging from the ceiling. The place has a chilled vibe that is good for dates and a gathering of friends, though business chats and family meals would not feel right here.
Beyond the dining room is a passage running past an open kitchen to the back door. On a flight of stairs at the back, cushions and small tables are placed on the steps to create a space called Laundry Room – named for obvious reasons – serving drinks and bar bites.
Its menu is also available to diners in the restaurant, as well as a full dining menu.
You have to order at the cashier in the kitchen and pay in advance. Because of that, there is no service charge and the restaurant gets to cut down its staff count – so, for me, it’s a win-win strategy.
Another advantage is that you can just up and go after your meal and not waste time calling and waiting for the bill.
The food is not your usual fare. The menu of small and big plates is inspired by mainly Asian cuisines, although there are some Western touches.
The results are patchy, with hits and misses, but the general direction of the food – a lot of grilled items with interesting sauces – is sound. A lot of the problems can be fixed easily and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the recipes being tweaked in the weeks to come.
Among the dishes I like is Blood Cockles ($14), an appetiser portion of cockles in half-shells sauteed in chilli jam and fish sauce caramel. What makes them more delightful is a generous topping of crispy pork fat.
Unfortunately, these are the tiniest cockles I have seen and they are hardly worth the effort of getting them out of their shells. Which is a pity because this is otherwise a very good dish.
Bean Salad ($10) is another dish that can be improved with a slight change. The combination of wing bean, long bean, mint, Thai basil and shallot is a great idea, with lots of crunch and aromatics. But the shrimp paste dressing comes across as too meek and the flavours are not as well-rounded as they could be.
Another sauce which needs more punch is the Asian chimichurri ($20) that comes with the chargrilled Squid ($20). The chilli vinegar dip tastes fine on its own, but gets diluted when paired with the bland squid.
Then there is Lion’s Head ($16), which stays pretty true to the Shanghainese classic dish, except the braised meatball is wrapped in cabbage leaves. While the seasoning is pretty good, the meatball needs more fat to achieve the melt-in-the-mouth sensation of a good lion’s head. With just lean pork – which is also ground too fine – the ball is a trifle dense.
River Prawns ($32) is great as it is though. Despite the name, there is only one grilled giant prawn, but it is packed with sweet meat. The best part, however, is not the meat, but the orange cream in the head.
The prawn comes with baked glutinous rice and diced shiitake mushroom, plus a ginger scallion sauce. Put a bit of everything on your spoon and eat it together because the combination is perfect – sweet prawn mixed with chewy and crispy rice as well as the aromatic and spicy sauce.
Lamb Ribs ($24) is good too. There is so much meat attached to the bone that, looking at it, one would think it is a pork rib. Slow-cooked before being chargrilled, it falls off the bone easily. And it is topped with a preserved lemon sauce that works so well to temper the gaminess in the fatty meat.
There is no dessert menu and the only item that comes close to a sweet ending is Chinese Donut ($8), which looks like youtiao, but tastes more like an unsalted ham chin peng. It comes with a soya sauce caramel, but there isn’t enough of it and you don’t detect much soya sauce in any case. So what you taste is mainly dough, which is not very exciting.
But these are minor things that can be tweaked with a little effort. In this case, it just needs more caramel.
So with some nips and tucks, alittle tashi could well be one more hot destination in Jalan Besar.
39 Tyrwhitt Road
In line with its mantra of “real food, full of natural flavours”, the 32-seat Verde Kitchen serves simple cuisine and a variety of healthy dishes, including gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and raw food options.
All the menu items are made from scratch in-house every day. More than half of the seafood served is sustainably sourced and carries the Marine Stewardship Council/Aquaculture Stewardship Council eco-labels. All chicken and eggs are certified organic, free-range and lacto-free.
Diners can expect fresh soups, salads and mains packed with superfoods such as wakame, kale, pomegranate, avocado and turmeric. Signature salads include Avocado Composition ($25++, above), with couscous, grapefruit, heirloom tomato, pomegranate, Vertical Garden lettuce and creamy avocado dressing; Green Mango And Quick-seared Tiger Prawns ($29++), with coriander, fresh mint and lemongrass sauce; and a spicy Penang Assam Laksa ($25++), with fish broth, shrimp paste, rice noodles, cucumber, red onion, pineapple and mint.
Heartier options include Free-range Pulled Pork Burger ($28++), with cheddar, purple and white coleslaw on a sunflower seed brioche bun; Organic Basil-crusted Glacier 51 Tooth Fish ($38++), with local mushrooms and thyme jus; and Malay-style Organic Lacto Chicken Curry ($32++), with spicy turmeric curry, organic lady’s fingers and brown rice.
The restaurant is committed to supporting the Singapore food economy. Half of the menu incorporates locally and sustainably sourced ingredients.
Suppliers include local independent organic vegetable farms, floating fish farms and free-range lacto poultry farms in Singapore and Johor. Its chefs harvest hotel-grown vegetables from the vertical garden on the property’s ground floor.
Level 2, Hilton Singapore, 581 Orchard Road
13% Gastro Wine
The wine bar has opened its third outlet in Telok Ayer Street. It also has outlets in Aliwal Street and Killiney Road.
Established in 2015, 13% Gastro Wine serves gourmet food and a wide selection of wines from France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand, curated by in-house connoisseur Bruno Vaillant.
The menu is designed by award-winning chef Geoffrey Weckx and features gourmet European food with a focus on fresh produce and quality housemade dishes. Charcuterie such as rillettes and condiments are made in-house to ensure the most authentic of European flavours.
Seating 48 people (or 60 standing), the Telok Ayer venue also hosts events such as wine masterclasses and party nights and can be hired for private and corporate functions.
It is the only 13% Gastro Wine outlet open for lunch.
Lunch specials include pork rillettes or duck rillettes sandwiches ($8++ each) and Classic 13% Burger ($16++, above), featuring Angus beef, French gherkins, tomato and cheese on a sesame bun, served with coleslaw and a choice of salad or fries.
The restaurant also offers housemade charcuterie and gourmet European cheese boards (from $10++ for an individual serving, also available in mixed platters), as well as larger dishes for dinner.
Level 2, 123A Telok Ayer Street
At Takayama, the newly opened kappo-style restaurant at Downtown Gallery, executive chef Taro Takayama and his team prepare its multi-course menu in front of diners.
At the heart of dining at Takayama is the spirit of omotenashi or whole-hearted Japanese hospitality. The main dining room of the 1,184 sq ft, 32-seater restaurant features two kappo counters for seven and five diners, as well as a booth that seats two and another for four. There are also two private dining rooms that accommodate six and eight guests.
Formerly chef de cuisine at Mandarin Orchard Singapore, chef Takayama began his career at three-Michelin-starred restaurants Kashiwaya and Koryu in Osaka, before being appointed master chef at the residence of the Japanese ambassador to Singapore, where he served dignitaries such as Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
For Takayama’s seasonal lunch sets, main dish choices are Saikyo miso black cod ($68++), grilled kinmedai ($88++), stewed agu pork ($68++) or grilled Kumamoto wagyu beef ($98++, above) and the set includes items such as housemade tofu, seasonal otsukuri, pickled vegetables and Hokkaido rice.
Seasonal kaiseki dinner options range from the eight-course Tasting menu ($190++) reflecting the Takayama cuisine concept to the 11-course Takayama menu ($380++, requires two days’ advance notice) of premium seasonal ingredients from Japan.
Downtown Gallery, 6A Shenton Way
TA-DA! The Bistro
Ta-da! The Bistro – located in busy Bras Basah Road in the neighbourhood of educational institutions such as Singapore Management University, School of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts – serves Asian fusion food, brunch and local delights.
The 80-seater bistro, with outdoor seating, is decorated with drawings on the wall by its staff.
One of the menu highlights is Honey Miso Wings ($9.90++, above), marinated in fermented beancurd paste. Another is Har-glio Olio, an aglio-olio style pasta tossed in extra virgin olive oil infused with garlic and chilli flakes and served with three plump prawns.
Other highlights include XL Chicken ($15.90++), Ta-da!’s version of the Taiwanese XXL fried chicken.
For those who prefer a quick bite, try Prawn Fritters ($9.90++), Popcorn Chicken ($7.90++), Fish Fingers ($7.90++) or the Roll n Go! grilled chicken wrap, a typical late-night snack served early ($6.90++).
Drink recommendations include Yuzu Mint Mojito ($4.90++), a virgin mojito of Korean sugared yuzu, fresh mint leaves and sparkling soda; and Man-goes Sunset ($4.90++), coconut cream, mixed with sweet mangoes and strawberries .
#01-03A, Manulife Centre, 51 Bras Basah Road
Ma Cuisine is a new gastro wine bar in Craig Road offering more than 600 labels and a 3,000-bottle collection, paired with a selection of classic French fare.
Wine by the bottle starts at $65++, while the bill for a la carte food averages $70++ a person.
Guests are encouraged to pick their wines first and can count on co-owner Anthony Charmetant’s wine knowledge to guide them.
Chef Mathieu Escoffier, the other owner, will recommend French classic fare and Burgundian specials for pairing.
Among the recommended wines is Meursault Les Casse Tetes 2015 Domaine Tessier ($132++), a white Burgundy with distinctive minerality that goes well with Le Jambon Persille ($27++), a housemade Burgundian jellied ham and parsley terrine.
Cotes du Rhone Khayyam 2015 Domaine Mas de Libian ($78++) balances out the intense savouriness of the anchovies from La Pissaladiere ($19++), caramelised onion tart with anchovies and olives.
Saint Joseph 2015 Domaine Pierre Gonon ($145++) has a depth and complexity that is excellent when accompanied with a classic dish of Le Pigeon ($38++), while Port White Colheita 1989 Barao de Vilar ($225++) can go with Fromages Affines ($32++ for 150g).
38 Craig Road
Curry Is Drink
At this Japanese restaurant, when you order a curry combo meal, you get your curry served in a cup.
Hence the name “Curry Is Drink”, because you can actually slurp the curry down as a soup instead of using it as gravy over rice or udon.
Besides getting curry served in cups, this is a fairly straightforward Japanese curry joint where one can get all kinds of deep fried meat, seafood and vegetables.
There is a fair degree of customisation. For example, you can choose between two types of curry sauce (original Japanese curry or black curry) and the level of heat (five levels from original to fiery).
The combo sets are good value (lunch: $13.90++; dinner: $14.90++), coming with a side of shredded cabbage, crispy fried onions and a variety of toppings including raisins .
Mains are panko-crusted deep-fried pork, chicken, prawn or fish .
Besides the combo rice sets, the concept also features curry udon sets and kids’ meals ($8.90++) that come with a non-spicy curry sauce served in a cup.
Curry Is Drink is opened by Japan Foods, one of the leading F&B groups in Singapore specialising in Japanese cuisine, that also runs Fruit Paradise, which sells fruit tarts, and Ginza Kushi-Katsu, which specialises in deep-fried meat and vegetable skewers.
#B1-32, Changi City Point, 5 Changi Business Park Central 1
Local Restaurant & Bar
The casual all-day dining menu at this new resto-bar matches its venue: the contemporary mid-range hotel 30 Bencoolen.
Helmed by award-winning executive chef Elvin Chew, it presents a menu that goes back to basics but uses unconventional ingredients and creative dips.
One of its signature dishes is Local Nasi Lemak ($16.90++). Coconut rice is served with free-range chicken rendang, housemade sambal egg, pickled achar, crackers, peanuts and ikan bilis.
The Eight-Hour Braised Beef Cheek Bowl ($22.90++) consists of braised Angus beef cheek on steamed Japanese rice with pickled daikon, bacon, sous vide egg, wild mushrooms and beef jus.
The Crispy Fish & Chips with Thai Chili Mayo Dip ($16.90++) comprises golden brown battered white fish fillet served with French fries, Asian coleslaw, lemon and Thai chilli mayonnaise dip.
Other signature dishes include Asian Vongole ($19.90++), Imperial Chicken Sandwich ($16.90++), Salted Egg Tempura Don ($18.90++), the 30 Ben Beef Burger ($19.90++) and the Local Celebration Platter ($26.90++) comprising truffle fries, spring roll, spam fries, har cheong chicken wings and calamari rings.
Guests can also enjoy gourmet coffees or chilled wines in the lounge bar, or try out Local Freeze, its signature mocktail.
First Level, 30 Bencoolen Street
Say Vietnamese cuisine and most people immediately think of pho (rice noodles soup) or banh mi (baguette sandwich).
My favourite Vietnamese dish, however, is bun cha, or grilled pork with rice noodles – the dish that chef Anthony Bourdain famously introduced to former United States president Barack Obama during his trip to Hanoi in 2016.
This dish is not widely available in Singapore, though, and I have had to satiate my craving for it only during my sporadic holidays to Vietnam.
I was therefore surprised and excited when I finally found a good version of it here – and even happier that it is conveniently located in Orchard Road.
It is at Little Hanoi, a stall in the Shaw Centre basement foodcourt.
Usually, I try to avoid foodcourts that are air-conditioned because the prices are not only marked up, but the offerings also often taste manufactured or watered down.
Fortunately, this one appeared to buck the trend.
Going by the Vietnamese I heard spoken among the staff there and seeing how the stall attracted one of the longest queues in the place, I was certain that I would be in for authentic Vietnamese cooking.
It was easy to miss the bun cha dish at first because it was not listed on the main menu board on the back wall.
Instead, a photograph of the dish was pasted on an A4-sized piece of paper on the counter top.
I eagerly ordered a portion ($7.90) and waited almost 10 minutes for it to be ready.
Although my stomach was growling by the time it was ready, I was happy to see that the two pork patties in my bowl were freshly grilled and steaming hot.
That was certainly better than how I have seen it served in some places – with the patties left sitting out and cold.
Little Hanoi’s version of the dish came with deep-fried spring rolls, which were crispy and full of pork and mushroom flavours.
The raw vegetables and fresh rice noodles at the bottom of the bowl acted as the perfect counterbalance to the heaviness of the meats.
I dipped the dry noodles into the sweet and savoury broth of fish sauce, vinegar and sugar served on the side and enjoyed how light and refreshing it made the entire meal.
For a little while, it almost felt like I was in Vietnam.
Combining the old and new is Fully Good Food, which specialises in prawn noodles (dry or soup) and mee rebus – both priced from a reasonable $2.80. While the brand is not new – there is also an outlet at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 – its young hawker owner is under NTUC Foodfare’s “hawker-preneurship” programme.
Prawn noodles and mee rebus may be an odd duo to sell at the same stall, but there are equal amounts of people slurping up both dishes.
I go for the prawn noodles with pork ribs ($4.50, left) first and realise that the piping-hot soup looks deceivingly light. The broth is packed with the sweet flavour of the prawns. I get four shelled prawn halves and two big pieces of tender pork ribs.
I can do with more ingredients, especially vegetables, but the portion is decent and good for lunch.
Next, I try the mee rebus, which is also a tasty option. The gravy is neither too thick nor gloopy, just the right consistency to coat the yellow noodles. It is on the sweeter side, with a mild hint of spice. A drizzle of dark soya sauce and squeeze of lime juice bring together a harmony of flavours – topped with diced tau kwa, bean sprouts and two halves of a hard-boiled egg.
The stall also sells mee siam, although a sign says it is not available.
If you want a fancy version of prawn noodles, go upstairs to Prawnaholic, which offers prawn noodles with prawn balls and Kurobuta pork ($6.50).
But my heart (and stomach) will stick to traditional comfort food for now.