Tan Hsueh Yun Food Editor recommends

Yakiniquest, Creatures, Bird Bird, Bao Makers

Niku Soumen, beef cut into strands to look like somen noodles, is served like Japanese cold noodles, with a soya dipping sauce, seaweed, scallions and a dab of wasabi.
Niku Soumen, beef cut into strands to look like somen noodles, is served like Japanese cold noodles, with a soya dipping sauce, seaweed, scallions and a dab of wasabi. PHOTOS: YAKINIQUEST, CREATURES, BIRD BIRD, BAO MAKERS

UNIQUE TAKE ON BEEF

If the name Yakiniquest sounds unusual for a restaurant, well, it is. And there is an interesting story behind this high-end grilled beef, or yakiniku, restaurant in Boat Quay.

Its managing director, Mr Suguru Ishida, 43, started a blog in Tokyo with four other yakiniku enthusiasts in 2004. For more than 15 years, he ate at 150 yakiniku places a year. The beef chronicles became popular and led to him being featured on television and radio as well as in magazines.

In January, he opened Yakiniquest in Singapore, saying he chose the city because people from all over the world come here, among other reasons.

The $120 Special Omakase is a good way to explore its offerings. It has three rounds of grilled beef, appetisers, rice or udon (pick the rice) and dessert. Yakiniquest serves beef from Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Iwate, using cuts such as rump and thigh that deliver on flavour, not just marbling.

A lot of care is given to the appetisers. Niku Soumen, beef cut into strands to look like somen noodles, is served like Japanese cold noodles, with a soya dipping sauce, seaweed, scallions and a dab of wasabi. The beef, on its own, tastes sweet, with a slight minerality. Mix it with the sauce and toppings and umami takes over.

Another good course is Yakisuki, which mashes up yakiniku and sukiyaki. Thin slices of striploin are grilled briefly, so some parts remain raw. The idea is to dip the beef in beaten egg before eating, and the hot, smoky beef becomes velvety when covered with raw egg.

WHERE: 48 Boat Quay MRT: Raffles Place OPEN: 5 to 11pm daily TEL: 6223-4129 INFO: www.facebook.com/yakiniquest.sg



Ah Gong Fried Chicken And Ah Ma Noodles. 

COMFORT FOOD WITH A TWIST

If you like comfort food and creature comforts, Creatures, a restaurant in Desker Road, fits the bill perfectly.

The $28 set lunch, with three courses and a drink, offers some tempting choices.

Babi Pongteh is a good choice. Pork belly is braised in fermented soya beans and assam. Warm spices such as cinnamon and ground coriander deepen the flavour.

Ah Gong Fried Chicken And Ah Ma Noodles (above) is not bad either. The la mian is aromatic and never gets clumpy. The fried chicken chop is crisp, with juicy meat under the crust. However, the garam masala is not punchy enough, and the cincalok mayonnaise needs more kick.

The first course is pumpkin soup done Thai style, with fish sauce and lime juice, drizzled with coconut cream and a coconut relish. These flavours cut through the sweetness of the squash and the aroma is appetising. Dessert is a choice of Rainbow Cheesecake or Earl Grey Lavender Tea Cake. Neither appeals, so I pay an extra $8 for Durian Cake ($12 a slice a la carte).

Soft, pandan-flavoured sponge cake is layered with Mao Shan Wang durian paste. The durian tastes unadulterated and I appreciate its glorious, pungent flavour.

I wash it all down with a housemade brew of Lemongrass & Pandan. The lemongrass is elusive, but the pandan is fragrant and strong. It reminds me of home and all its creature comforts.

WHERE: 120 Desker Road MRT: Farrer Park OPEN: Noon to 10.30pm (Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday), noon to 11.30pm (Friday and Saturday), closed on Monday INFO: www.creatures.com.sg



Bird Bird in Ann Siang Road channels rough Bangkok.

DELICIOUS THAI STREET FOOD

Bird Bird, the deliberately "obiang" eatery that chef Bjorn Shen has opened in Ann Siang Road, channels rough Bangkok.

The rubber chicken and lantern "chandelier" and the naughty signs, like one that says "Bird Bird Satisfry You Long Time", imply it is not to be taken seriously. But the food is too good not to.

To try almost everything at one go, order the Happiness Meal ($75), which feeds two generously. There is Gai Tod, fried chicken done Southern-Thai style with a chilli jam dip; and Gai Yang, Isaan-style barbecued chicken with a chilli tamarind dip. Both are very good. Gai Yang has a beguiling smokiness and Gai Tod a satisfying crunch. The dips are not atomically hot, so you are able to appreciate the nuances.

I substitute the Waterfall Lamb with Basil Duck Tater Tots and am glad I do. Crisp tater tots are surprisingly good with snake beans, Thai basil and pieces of duck.

The meal comes with Som Tum, or green papaya salad (Thai restaurants do it better), and some sticky rice.

On the a la carte menu, I home in on Umami Corn ($14 for two ears). This take on Mexican street corn is barbecued and then slathered with Sriracha chilli sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, shrimp floss and lime. The name is apt.

Chef Shen is threatening to take Thai Pancake ($10) off the menu, saying it is too filling. Persuade him not to. The pillowy pancakes with sweet corn, coconut cream, fried eggs and fish-sauce caramel are an unlikely combination, but come together in a surprising and deeply satisfying way.

For dessert, get the Bird Bird Sundae ($8), coconut ice cream, palm-sugar caramel and corn with deep-fried chicken skin. It is well-thought-out trashy food. The Thai Donuts ($10) are crisp balls of dough to roll in Thai kaya. Coat them well, you will be rewarded and love Bird Bird long time.

WHERE: 18 Ann Siang Road MRT: Chinatown OPEN: 6.30 to 11pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday INFO: www.facebook.com/birdbirdsg



Salted Egg Shrimp ($15 for two with a side salad).

HOT BUNS

Bao Makers in Horne Road is one of several places that are filling steamed buns, usually used to sandwich braised pork belly, with all sorts of delicious fillings.

The cafe, which took over the space vacated by Windowsill Pies after it moved to Soo Chow Walk near Upper Thomson Road, has five versions. Each serving, which ranges in price from $12 to $16, comes with two bao and a side salad.

There is also a handy Bao Platter ($28), with a serving each of the Classic, Bulgogi, Chilli Crab and Teriyaki Chicken bao.

The Classic, with slow-braised pork belly, lacks oomph, despite the aromatic coriander, crunchy preserved vegetables and peanuts packed into the bun. The meat cries out for a more deeply flavoured soya-sauce braising liquid. Although the Teriyaki Chicken boasts juicy chicken under a crisp crust, it needs more sauce, or a more intensely flavoured one.

However, the pork Bulgogi and Chilli Crab, served in deep-fried buns, are great, with punchy, robust flavours and generous fillings.

Not on the sample platter is the Salted Egg Shrimp (above, $15 for two with a side salad), which has beautifully springy prawns. Here, the kitchen gets the sauce-to-filling ratio just right: there is just enough of the rich salted egg yolk sauce to cover the prawns without making the bao too rich.

WHERE: 78 Horne Road MRT: Lavender OPEN: 11am to 9pm (weekday), 10am to 10pm (Saturday), 10am to 6pm (Sunday) TEL: 6291-2330 INFO: www.facebook.com/baomakers

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'Food Picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe