FRENCH FARE AT GARCONS
I have not found a food court I like, but Essen@The Pinnacle might be it. Located at the mega The Pinnacle @ Duxton housing project, it has high ceilings, rustic wooden tables and seats, and a clutch of interesting stalls.
The one I head to is Garcons, set up by chefs Enoch Teo, 25, and Immanuel Tee, 28, who met as garcons (French for boys) while working at Restaurant Andre.
Each of them has other food businesses, but have collaborated to open a stall that serves casual French food that is quite easy on the pocket.
I cannot bring myself to order the French Duck Leg Confit ($16.90) in this heat, but am unable to resist the siren call of the 12-Hour Belly Of Pork ($16.90, photo). It is excellent. The skin puts up a fight, being feisty and crisp, but the meat surrenders totally. Mashed potatoes are not completely smooth, which I like, and the perky salad served alongside it makes me feel better about eating pork belly.
The Pork Ragout Baked Rice Gratin ($11.50) is another good dish to order, being comfort food any time of the year. Mixed in with the rice are shreds of stewed pork, peas and tomato sauce. The cheese topping is beautifully browned, crisp in parts, gooey in others. The starters deserve a shoutout, too.
Although they are not French, the Tuna Tataki Salad ($12.90) and the Black Miso Foie Gras ($16.50) are light and fresh, a good start before the heavier main courses.
Ginger-shoyu marinated tuna is seared so it is cooked on the outside, but raw inside. Slices are placed on top of greens and bell peppers dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. It is simple and fresh and just the thing to eat on an oppressively hazy day.
The foie gras dish is a departure from the usual way it is served. Inevitably, the liver is pan-fried and served with something fruity and tart. Here, it is pan-fried, coated with a layer of black miso and served in dashi broth with thin strips of daikon cut to look like noodles. The lightly sweet miso is perfect on the foie gras and although I have doubts about it going with the dashi, it does.
This French-Japanese hybrid dish is a surprising thing to find in a food court.
But Essen@The Pinnacle is not typical. I hope it thrives.
WHERE: Garcons, Essen@The Pinnacle, 1 Cantonment Road, The Pinnacle @ Duxton MRT: Tanjong Pagar OPEN: Noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10pm (Tuesday to Friday), 11.30am to 3pm, 5.30 to 10pm (weekend & public holiday), closed on Monday INFO: www.facebook.com/garcons.sg
YUMMY PRAWN NOODLES
There are prawn noodle stalls here where the crustaceans do not take centre stage. Instead, what satisfies is a rib-sticking pork stock.
In a coffee shop at Block 44 Bendemeer Road is a stall that sells terrific prawn-pork noodles. Do not judge it by its generic name, the very exciting Prawn Noodles. The noodles (from $3.50) more than pass muster. I order rice vermicelli or beehoon and it comes tossed with punchy chilli and scattered with small prawns, sliced fishcake and pork, and a generous helping of crisp lard cubes.
All is good and then I taste the cloudy, dark brown broth that accompanies the noodles. It has lots of oomph and the ribs are juicy. It is such a joy biting into soft bone. I go back to my noodles, but keep dipping into that broth. I will need to go back for another fix soon.
WHERE: Prawn Noodles, Block 44 Bendemeer Road MRT: Boon Keng OPEN: 7am to 7pm daily
INDONESIAN SMASH HIT
While at Kallang Wave Mall recently, a restaurant called Ayam Penyet President catches my eye and I decide to have lunch there. It is part of a chain, with restaurants in Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road, nex in Serangoon and Century Square in Tampines, and does a roaring trade on a Saturday afternoon. I can see why. The food, which arrives quickly, is pretty good for a quick, casual meal.
The Ayam Penyet ($6.80, photo), or smashed fried chicken, comes with a chilli paste that is not too spicy, which suits me fine. The small chicken leg and thigh combo boasts crisp skin, and meat that manages not to be too dried out. Deep fried tempeh and firm tofu, and some seriously crunchy crumbs, complete the platter.
Rice is extra at 90 cents, but I opt for the Yellow Fragrant Rice ($2), which comes with slivers of omelette, fried tempeh and cucumber.
What I will go back for is the Ayam Cabe Ijo ($6.80). Instead of chilli paste, the fried chicken, tofu and tempeh are served with a generous scoop of Indonesian green chilli relish topped with tiny ikan bilis. I would happily eat the cabe ijo with plain rice as the tart green chillies taste so vibrant and fresh, like a salsa verde with kick.
WHERE: Ayam Penyet President, 01-23 Kallang Wave Mall, 1 Stadium Place MRT: Stadium TEL: 6384-6356 OPEN: 11.30am to 9.30pm (weekday), 11am to 9.30pm (weekend)
TAKE YOUR PICK AT MUJI CAFE
Cafeterias make me think of institutional, soulless food. You queue, servers dump uninspiring food on your tray, you pay, you weep in frustration under fluorescent light. There are exceptions.
The new Cafe&Meal Muji in The Paragon is one of them. It does not serve food that sits under heat lamps, the seating is comfortable and stylish, and the lighting is warm.
The Japanese homewares chain makes choosing easy. First, you decide whether you want a 3-Deli Set ($12.90) or a 4-Deli Set ($16.90, photo). Then, you pick from hot and cold deli items.
Not all the offerings are good, however. I find the Black Vinegar Sweet Sour Pork dry and stringy. However, the Saba With Sweet And Spicy Miso Sauce is excellent. The mackerel flakes beautifully and is not overcooked. I wish there is more sauce to go with the rice that comes with the meals.
I have better luck with the cold deli offerings. I will order the Vegetables Omelet again, a wedge of fritata studded with carrots, bell peppers and other colourful vegetables. Beet Root And Watermelon Salad has the same mixture of greens as all the other leafy salads, but the chunks of watermelon and sweet beets make it a little special.
Roasted Tea Pudding ($5.40) is a great dessert. It is like a houjicha-infused pannacotta topped with a sesame tuile. It could be a bit more wobbly, but the pudding has a good tea flavour and is sweetened just so.
WHERE: Cafe&Meal Muji, 04-36 to 40, The Paragon MRT: Orchard TEL: 6735-0123 OPEN: 10am to 9.30pm daily