Modern Asian bistro
In these days of working from home, the need to escape, chill and space out, when the walls start closing in, becomes urgent. The laid-back vibe of the restaurants at Dempsey soothes the savage breast. It's a bonus if they also serve good food.
Hathaway, tucked away even in tucked-away Dempsey, serves terrific food.
I had written about the 50-seat restaurant as part of a feature on halal and Muslim-friendly restaurants, but ate there only recently. The restaurant uses no pork or lard and does not serve alcohol.
The ingredients are decidedly Asian, but there are hints of French, Middle Eastern and Japanese influences as well. This shows up in dishes such as Pengat Pisang French Toast ($24), Indian Riff On Mezze ($24) and Mulard Duck Confit ($42) with a hoisin reduction.
My favourite dish, hands down, is Ah Nya's Fish Curry ($32) - made using owner Ivan Ting's grandmother's recipe. A thick fillet of barramundi is cooked perfectly in a spicy, robust gravy with just the right amount of tartness to ward off a food coma, and topped with okra tempura. I mop up the sauce with batons of smoky roti bakar. I would so love this dish made with a meaty fish head.
Chermoula Aubergine ($28) is another good main course. A large eggplant is charcoal grilled, then topped with roasted cauliflower and hazelnuts seasoned with chaat masala spices, on labneh, which is yogurt cheese, spiced with za'atar. Depending on what ends up on your fork, you get combinations of tender, crunchy and creamy. I don't miss the meat.
To start, the Indian mezze platter offers beautifully pillowy naan for digging into a rich tofu makhani, the vegetarian version of butter chicken; a spicy eggplant dip that could benefit from a touch more acid; and an aromatic coconut chutney.
Kale & Wing Bean Salad ($18) looks like a mini Christmas tree on a plate, decorated with pomegranate arils. I order it as obligatory fibre, but end up fighting for the last wisps of kale with my friend. The salad would be even better with more wing beans.
For dessert, I get Seri Muka ($16). It sounds over the top because it comprises kueh salat, apom berkuah ice cream and pengat sauce. But here's where the kitchen shows its mettle. The dessert is rich, but not overly so. The sugar is held tightly in check and salt balances things out beautifully.
Next time, I'm ordering Straits Of Dempsey ($32), a brunch dish of butter chicken, house sausage, eggs, latkes and naan. It's the world on a plate and might satisfy my wanderlust.
Where: Hathaway, 01-07, 13 Dempsey Road
Open: 9am to 9pm (Mondays to Wednesdays), 9am to 10pm (Thursdays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
A different laksa
Many home-based food businesses have flourished in the pandemic, but few make the leap to brick-and-mortar stores. Cai Eats, which started out selling ngoh hiang, is one of those which have levelled up.
The Chua siblings - Irwin, Amanda and Charmaine - have been mining their grandparents' stash of recipes, and since opening their eatery in the Upper Thomson Road area, have been adding to their repertoire.
The latest offering is Laksa Terengganu Kuah Putih, which is not spicy at all unless you add a dollop of their fiery sambal belacan. The nuanced and balanced recipe comes from their mother's side of the family.
Richness comes from coconut milk, mixed with shallots and spices for the gravy. Hand-flaked mackerel adds umami, shredded cucumber adds lightness to counter the richness, as does a squeeze of lime juice. Aromatic laksa leaves top everything off.
For now, it is available in a set menu, which has a taste of everything Cai Eats offers - original and mala ngoh hiang, tender and juicy pork meatballs, a vegetable dish. Go for the terrific sambal petai, old-school glutinous rice, laksa, sambal belacan, Hainanese chilli sauce and housemade barley water.
A set for four costs $168 and one for six is $230. Islandwide delivery charges are included and the set is available for lunch from Tuesdays to Saturdays, and for dinner from Tuesdays to Fridays. Pre-order at least two days in advance via Instagram.
Another option is to swop out the laksa with Spicy Sambal Char Kway Teow, which means the set for four costs $150 and the set for six costs $210. That, too, is delicious.
Kway teow, shredded chicken, fish cake and egg are fried together with slices of cucumber. The vegetable, usually eaten raw, becomes tender and soaks up the piquant seasonings that go into the dish. This dish is not always available and has to be pre-ordered.
The dilemma for me is: What if I want both the kway teow and the laksa? I'll get it a la carte - at $7 for an individual serve (minimum two orders) and $50 for eight servings.
Where: Cai Eats, 9 Jasmine Road
Open: 10am to 6pm (weekdays), 10am to 4pm (Saturdays)
Primo rojak sauce
So many restaurants, cafes and food shops clamour for attention in the Joo Chiat area. I figure I would home in on a stall in a coffee shop that is more famous for a mee pok stall. But it is Lim Bo Rojak I make a beeline for.
I find out about it from a young friend who likes to do takeaways for lunch. The rojak recipe is said to be from Uncle Lim's Rojak, a popular stall in Kuala Lumpur.
Dine in and the rojak is tossed in sauce for you. Prices start at $5 for fruit, vegetables and youtiao, and top out at $10 for all that plus crunchy prawn fritters.
For takeaway, the sauce is packed separately. That is the draw for me.
The fruit and vegetables are not terribly exciting - the pineapples are seriously lacklustre. Although the youtiao manages to remain fairly crisp, I can do without it. The prawn fritter is great, but only if you eat the rojak there.
I started getting the $5 rojak, then graduated to just buying the thick, umami-laden sauce at $5 or $10. It is made with prawn paste from Penang and is seriously the bomb. The stall will give you chilli sauce to add to it, but I like to doctor it myself. A squeeze of calamansi lime juice and whatever chilli sauce is lurking in my fridge usually does the trick. If I have any on hand, I also add a sprinkling of crushed peanuts.
Then, I have it with pan-fried tempeh and tau kwa, pink guava, sweet rose apples and Japanese cucumber. The stuff is so addictive.
Where: Lim Bo Rojak, 64 Joo Chiat Place
Open: 9.30am to 8pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), closed on Mondays