Tan Hsueh Yun Food Editor recommends

Takumi, Buona Terra, Xiang Yuan Ji Shanghai Panfried Dumpling, Chit Chaat Chai

Beef On Garlic Fried Rice.
Beef On Garlic Fried Rice.PHOTO: TAN HSUEH YUN

LUNCH DEAL AT TAKUMI

With the economic doom and gloom setting in, having a satisfying meal that does not break the bank is one way to make the belt-tightening less painful. A friend tells me about Takumi Restaurant's Express Set Lunch and I marvel at the prices. Can an upscale restaurant be serving full lunch sets for $15 and $18?

And yet, there it is, five sets that are available at lunch. Teppanyaki Pork Ginger, Charcoal Grilled Saba, Tempura Soba and Negi-Toro Don cost $15++ each, and Beef On Garlic Fried Rice is $18++. The sets include a starter, chawanmushi, miso soup and dessert.

The best of the lot is the beef with fried rice; aromatic and substantial, piled high with pieces of juicy beef and crisp garlic chips. It is mighty good value.

I like the pork with ginger too and they are not stingy with the meat.

Japanese supermarkets sell packs of ready chopped toro so it is easy to make negitoro don at home. But at Takumi, the rice is topped not only with the fatty tuna, but also tobiko, or flying fish roe, and an onsen tamago. All these contrasting textures make for a very good lunch.

WHERE: Takumi Restaurant, 2 Keppel Bay Vista, 02-01 MRT: Telok Blangah TEL: 6271-7414 OPEN: Noon to 2.30pm (when Express Set Lunch is available), 6 to 10.30pm daily INFO: www.takumirestaurants.com



Wild turbot stuffed with prawns and topped with a fine and crisp black rice crust. PHOTO: BUONO TERRA

NEW OFFERINGS AT BUONA TERRA

Although it has been around for more than three years, Italian restaurant Buona Terra in Scotts Road has been under the radar. That is a real pity because I have always had good food there.

The chef, Denis Lucchi, 35, makes excellent pasta from scratch and his olive all'Ascolana, large olives stuffed with beef and pork, breaded and deep fried, makes for compulsive eating.

He has launched a new menu, with a four-course meal starting at $128++ a person.

Among the new offerings, three make a good impression.

The first is venison carpaccio cured with salt and sugar and served with berries. It reminds me of game meats served with fruit sauces, but the texture of the venison is pleasantly chewy and its earthy flavour a lovely contrast to the fruit.

Feather-light potato gnocchi with veal shank ragu and a chunk of bone marrow is rich and comforting. If those gnocchi are any lighter, they'd float.

There is also wild turbot stuffed with prawns and topped with a fine and crisp black rice crust (left).

I love the surprise of finding Sicilian red prawns in the firm fleshed fish and the smoky flavour from the black rice really adds oomph to the dish.

WHERE: Buona Terra, 29 Scotts Road MRT: Newton TEL: 6733-0209 OPEN: Noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm (Monday to Friday), 6.30 to 10.30pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday



Shen jian bao ($5 for three), or pan-fried dumpling. PHOTO: TAN HSUEH YUN

AUTHENTIC SHANGHAI FARE AT XIANG YUAN JI

The menu is small, the decor of the restaurant simple and the noise level astronomical. But I will be going back to Xiang Yuan Ji Shanghai Panfried Dumpling in Jalan Besar for an authentic taste of street food from the Chinese city.

Its shen jian bao ($5 for three, photo), or pan-fried dumpling, are delightfully crisp at the bottom. Eaters must proceed with caution or risk being scalded by hot soup from the juicy pork filling. The best thing to do is to take a little bite of bao skin to make a hole, then pour the juice out into a soup spoon, slurp up the robust goodness, then tackle the bao.

Also worth ordering is Salty Bean Curd ($4.50), a good change from the sweet version. It comes in a light but flavourful broth and is topped with seaweed and scallions.

Tiny, silken wontons in Shanghai Wanton Soup ($5) come in a slightly tangy broth that I cannot get enough of.

I have big expectations of the Shanghai Style Pork Cutlet ($6.50) and it looks good; breaded and fried until golden. The pork, however, is far too thin to have a satisfying bite, so all I taste is the breading.

I have been thinking of the house-made soya bean milk ($1.50) and those crisp bao.

Time to brave the noise and go back.

WHERE: Xiang Yuan Ji Shanghai Panfried Dumpling, 405 Jalan Besar MRT: Farrer Park TEL: 6291-1101 OPEN: 11.30am to 10pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday



Dahi Vada ($3) from Chit Chaat Chai at Timbre+. PHOTO: TAN HSUEH YUN

STREET FOOD DELIGHTS AT TIMBRE+

There is plenty to like at Timbre+, a new-generation hawker centre that houses mini restaurants, food trucks and hawker stalls under one non- air-conditioned roof.

In two visits there, I have barely made a dent in the offerings, but I have gone to Chit Chaat Chai both times. The food truck is run by Indian restaurant Gayatri.

The highlight for me is the chaat or street snacks, which it serves from 3pm. My favourite is Dahi Vada ($3, photo), lentil fritters soaked in tangy yogurt, with chopped onions, mustard seeds, curry leaves, dried chillies and chopped onions. Instead of being heavy from the lentils and the soaking, the fritters do not weigh me down and the tangy yogurt is so good I slurp it all up.

Also worth ordering is Chicken Katti Roll ($5), flat bread with a spicy filling full of chicken and vegetables. The mint chutney soothes the burn and so does the Mango Lassi ($3.50).

WHERE: Chit Chaat Chai, Timbre+, 73A Ayer Rajah Crescent, JTC LaunchPad @ one-north MRT: one-north OPEN: 9am to 10pm (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday, chaat available from 3 to 9pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'Food Picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe