SAFIYA BY SHANGRI-LA
VIBRANT MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD
You know you are hitting peak Christmas when getting anywhere takes ages because of traffic snarls, when queues to pay stretch and stretch.
At times like these, I want to retreat. And really, just by tapping on my phone, I can conjure up entire meals.
Shangri-La Singapore has started Safiya, offering good Middle Eastern food for takeaway and delivery. Overseeing the menu is its head chef of Middle Eastern cuisine, chef Ara Sayegh.
The food is available a la carte and there are also set meal bundles priced at $48+ for two people and $90+ for four. Each set comes with one cold and one hot mezze, a choice of main course, and pita bread, dessert, pickles and Arabic rice.
I would go a la carte because I can order the mezze I want, and the main courses I like are not on the list for the set meals.
Warak Enab ($14+) - grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions, tomatoes, parsley, lemon and mint - are just terrific. These little cigars have a lot of bite. The tangy grape leaves, sweetish pomegranate sauce, lemon and mint really whet my appetite.
Another must-order is Kibbe Krass ($16+), lamb croquettes with a crisp bulghur coating, with buttery, toasty pine nuts in the middle.
For the main course, please order Lamb Kebab ($22+), which is so aromatic and juicy. It travels and reheats well, and is so delicious wrapped in warm pita bread, with chopped purple onions.
Although I am convinced that life is too short to eat chicken breast, I come close to changing my mind after a bite of Shish Tawook ($20+) - a main course of corn-fed chicken breast in a spiced tomato sauce. Imagine how much better this would be with chicken thigh.
For dessert, I would pick Meghli ($9+), a smooth Lebanese rice pudding topped with grated coconut and toasted nuts. It's vegan to boot, if you care about these things.
There is nothing wrong with the Baklava ($14+), crisp layers of filo - 28 of them - with roasted pistachios in between. But I'd rather save my calories for more Warak Enab and Kibbe Krass.
WHERE Shangri-La Singapore, 22 Orange Grove Road TEL 6213-4398 INFO To order, go to bit.ly/SLSSafiya or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Islandwide delivery is free with orders above $200, and $20 for each location otherwise. There is also self pick-up from Shangri-La Singapore's Tower Wing, Lobby Level from Wednesdays to Sundays, noon to 2.30pm (last order 2pm) and 6 to 9pm (last order 8.30pm).
COSY NEIGHBOURHOOD CAFE
In these work-from-home days, I don't haunt Toa Payoh, which is where the office is, as often as I used to. But I feel myself drawn to a cafe in Lorong 1.
Niche Savoureuse, with the rather grand name, is really an unpretentious cafe serving a terrific Gula Melaka Cappuccino ($5.80). It is the only version I have had where I can taste the palm sugar, that faint muskiness I find very pleasing.
If I were still working in the office, I'd be in so much trouble. I would need to have one every day.
The dine-in menu features all-day breakfasts, waffles, pasta and pizza - pretty standard stuff. The half portion of Savoury Waffles ($8.90) I have comes with terrific bacon glazed with agave syrup, but the scrambled eggs weep water. The waffles are fine, nothing to write home about.
What surprises me, however, are the cakes. The star is undoubtedly the Ondeh Ondeh Cake ($8.50 a slice).
First, the green comes from actual pandan juice, not colouring. Already, the cafe scores points.
Can anything be more off-putting than cake in a shade of green not found in nature? Everything about it is light - its fluffy crumb, the not-too-sweet frosting. I love the toasted coconut on top.
The Niche Cheesecake ($6.90) is rich enough, but will not induce a food coma.
Two other cakes deserve a mention.
Nuts About You ($7.50) features the powerhouse combo of peanut butter and chocolate and is for days when you need to eat yourself out of a blue funk.
If it is available, the Traditional Kueh Salat ($4.90) is worth ordering. I have had better custard layers from home bakers, but the rice is so tender and soft, and has just enough salt.
WHERE 01-833, Block 128 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh MRT Braddell TEL 9633-5108 OPEN 10am to 7pm (Mondays, Wednesdays to Fridays), 9am to 7pm (Saturdays and Sundays), closed on Tuesdays INFO www.nichesav.com
CHRISTMAS AT HOME
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and now is a good time to think about the main protein on your Christmas table.
Last year, I had a stuffed duck with sour cherry sauce and it was just the perfect size for my parents and me.
This year, the field is wide open and there are so many options. Restaurants, hotels and home-based food businesses are reading people well, offering main courses sized for small families. Large gatherings, of course, have gone the way of dinosaurs.
Two excellent options come from Blue Spoon, a home-based food business.
Its Slow-Cooked Beef Cheek With Roasted Sweet Potatoes ($48.90, serves three to four) features fork-tender meat that is so easy to love. I like that the sweet potatoes are roasted first, so they don't crumble to bits in the stew. The sauce is rich, no doubt, but the cranberry sauce and apple cider vinegar cut through some of that, and the tang is just what the dish needs. Pity the bourbon is not discernible.
The other dish I like is Curried Lamb Neck Rosettes ($36.90, serves two to three), which is very likely to feature in one of my Yuletide meals. I love this aromatic curry, spicy with chilli padi and green chillies, with tomatoes, mint and coriander to add freshness. It comes with roasted potatoes and there is festive richness from almonds and cashews.
All I'll need to do is cook basmati rice with saffron and toss it with chopped mint and pomegranate arils, make a side salad and I am all set.
Both dishes are sold frozen, so they will hold in the freezer for the New Year too.
WHERE Blue Spoon INFO Order five days in advance via WhatsApp on 9147-4678. Last day for orders is Dec 17 before 3pm. Last day for collection in Serangoon Garden is Dec 23. A minimum order of $35 is required for delivery. Delivery charges range from $6 to $20, depending on distance.