It is easy to be sceptical about celebrity restaurants. Some of the famous chefs behind them seem only to lend their names to the restaurants and the food can be terrible.
Spago (Sands SkyPark, Tower 2 Level 57, Marina Bay Sands, tel: 6688-9955), chef Wolfgang Puck's restaurant at the integrated resort, is one that works. His Cut steakhouse at MBS has a great vibe, with very good cocktails and food, and the new place is just as hopping.
My friends and I start with cocktails at the outdoor bar, with stunning views of the city, and then move into the dining room.
One of the best things we order is Pan Seared Red Snapper "Laksa" ($58), a generous snapper fillet on a bed of rice noodles, the same kind used in laksa, and an addictive sauce we fight over.
The flavours are all consistent with laksa but instead of a liberal sprinkling of chopped laksa leaves, the kitchen uses whole Thai basil leaves. It gives a familiar dish a bit of a jolt, one that is very pleasant.
We also order the "Angry" Live Maine Lobster ($110), which comes whole and covered with a fiery-looking sauce made with chillies, garlic, scallions and black bean. The server expertly liberates lobster meat from the shell, thank goodness, and we tuck in.
As angry as that sauce looks, it is not too spicy even for a chilli coward like me. Instead, there is wonderful umami and a good balance of sweet, salty and spicy. The dish comes with steamed rice. Just perfect.
FRIENDS WHO COOK
I always marvel at my friend Lawrence, who has a tiny kitchen but manages to whip up huge feasts. It goes to show that you do not need a fancy kitchen to turn out good food.
On a recent, rainy Saturday, a bunch of us gather at his place for comfort food. On the menu are Hakka-style pork stew, and a beef stew with brisket, tongue, tendon and tripe.
We are having a grand old time, talking and eating and at several intervals, I ask what else is coming. Anyone who has ever had a meal at Lawrence's will know they have to pace themselves.
"One last dish," he says, placing a platter of fried mee tai mak on the table.
We tuck in and move on to dessert.
"What is he doing?" a friend asks, looking a bit panicked.
"He's cooking some more," I say.
It turns out the mee tai mak is not the last dish after all.
We look at the minced pork noodles he sets on the plate, and tuck in.
DIM SUM PLAN B
It almost never happens but the call I dread comes on a Sunday morning. I am having a sleep in and anticipating a good lunch in one of my favourite restaurants. But I get a call saying there is a kitchen emergency and it cannot open for lunch.
That leads to a scramble at 11am to book some place, any place for the dim sum my dad is hankering after.
I get a chorus of "Sorry, we are fully booked."
Then I remember a place a friend tells me about some months ago. It does not require reservations so there is where we go, my fingers firmly crossed that we get a table.
We do, at Wan Tou Sek (126 Sims Avenue, tel: 6746 4757). I like how the name of the place sounds like the 126 in the address.
The dimsum here is not high-end by any stretch of the imagination but it is good and the sprawling menu will keep me happy over several visits.
One of the best things we order is Tomyam Siew Mai ($5 for four), which makes me roll my eyes but curiosity gets the better of me. I love the aromatic spices that make the Thai soup so addictive. Chive dumplings ($4 for four), shaped like xiao long bao but without the soup, are very satisfying too. A new guilty pleasure is crisp cubes of deep fried yam and carrot cake ($4 a plate).
I will order the century egg congee ($3) again too. The congee is not silky smooth like in Hong Kong but Wan Tou Sek's version is perfectly seasoned and comes with generous helpings of the preserved egg.
The place opens round the clock, useful when hungry for dimsum in the middle of the night.
The owners of Teng, a Japanese vegetarian restaurant at Sunshine Plaza, have opened Pepper Jade (01-20 Sunshine Plaza, 91 Bencoolen Street, tel: 6337-7030), a Thai vegetarian restaurant, in the same building.
How do you cook authentic Thai food without fish sauce, one of my dining companions asks. Well, the restaurant gets by very well.
Its Pad Thai ($8) has plenty of umami. Squeeze the fresh lime over the noodles and the burst of citrusy flavour is perfect. I really like the firm tofu that go with the noodles but am less enamoured of the mock prawns. They have a vague, prawn-like flavour and taste exactly like thawed out and overcooked frozen prawns.
Otherwise, the dish is great, and I do not miss the meat.
DURIAN FOR CHRISTMAS
When these cute puffs land in the office, my colleagues and I try to outdo ourselves photographing them. They are made to look like snowmen with tans and are almost too cute to eat.
The puffs come from Peony Jade (The Keppel Club, Bukit Chermin Road, tel: 6276-9138) and cost $78 for four.
Yes, the price is a little steep but consider this: Each puff is stuffed full of mao shan wang pulp, and the pungent durian is perfect for a Christmas celebration with local food.
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