Wong Ah Yoke Food Critic recommends

Sunday brunch at Raffles Grill, new dishes at Birds of a Feather, Si Chuan Dou Hua, and Da Dong Prawn Noodles

PHOTOS: RAFFLES HOTEL, SI CHUAN DOU HUA, WONG AH YOKE

ELEGANT SUNDAY BRUNCH

With all the hoardings covering the Raffles Hotel shopping gallery, one might mistakenly think that the hotel is closed. But it is running till the end of the year, when the entire complex goes under renovation.

Still, with its Long Bar located in the shopping gallery gone, some changes have been made. The bar was where guests went for the famous Singapore Sling cocktail.

The drink is now available at Bar & Billiard Room, where the hotel's popular Sunday brunch used to be held.

In a game of musical chairs, brunch has been moved to the Raffles Grill, a smaller and more formal venue. In keeping with the fine-dining setting, the experience is now less boisterous and more elegant, but it also means a smaller buffet spread.

To make up for the loss in variety, some canapes and main dishes (above) are served to the table. These include items such as Pan-Fried Foie Gras With Wild Mushroom And Cauliflower Espuma; and Golden Turbot "Meuniere" With Rice "Venere", Fried Squid And Crustacean Foam.

Kept on the spread are popular items such as chilled Maine lobsters, a selection of oysters and Kristal caviar on blinis. Hot food include carvings of US Prime cote de boeuf and Welsh rack of lamb. And to end the meal, there is an array of cheeses and desserts to pick from.

WHERE: Raffles Grill, Raffles Hotel Singapore, 1 Beach Road MRT: City Hall OPEN: Noon to 2pm, 7 to 10pm (Mondays to Saturdays), noon to 3pm, 7.30 to 10pm (Sundays); Sunday brunch available till mid-August from noon to 3pm PRICE: $198 a person with Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve Champagne, $218 with Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne TEL: 6412-1816


FIERY CHINESE FUSION

Birds of a Feather, a Sichuan eatery with Western decor, has refreshed its menu with new dishes. Some work and some don't.

Among those I will be going back for is Pig Ear Mosaic ($18), where braised pig ears are served on a bed of arrowroot noodles with a spicy and sour Sichuan dressing. The ears are tender and I like the tingle of Sichuan spices in the dish.

Kawa Ebi Swim In The Chillies ($17, above) is a variation of the popular spicy dish of chicken tossed in dry chillies. This works too, as the deep-fried river shrimps are crispy and fragrant, though I wonder if the dish would be even better if the chef had used shrimps that were a bit bigger. You would then get that contrast between crispy shell and juicy meat.

Crispy Chicken Winglet ($16) is good too. The meat is well-marinated and moist. And the chef has thoughtfully added some sweet garlic shoots to douse the fire in the mouth.

What doesn't work for me is Baby Octopus ($18), which replaces slices of pork belly in a popular Sichuan cold dish called suan ni bai rou (literally minced garlic white meat). Here, the octopus has a lovely crunch, but contributes no flavour to the minced garlic sauce. Perhaps adding some chopped chilli padi might redress that.

WHERE: Birds of a Feather, 01-01, 115 Amoy Street MRT: Telok Ayer OPEN: 10am to 11pm (Mondays to Wednesdays), 10am to midnight (Thursdays to Saturdays), 11.30am to 11pm (Sundays, 10am to 10pm from next week) TEL: 9755-7115


SICHUAN OMAKASE

Omakase, such a buzzword among restaurants these days, refers to a meal with no menu, where the chef cooks the best produce he can lay his hands on. All the diner knows beforehand is the price he's paying for the meal. "I'll leave it to you," that is what the Japanese word means.

It started with upmarket Japanese restaurants and has become so popular with both chefs and diners that Western restaurants adopted the concept too.

Now, a Sichuan restaurant here is offering omakase as well.

Si Chuan Dou Hua at Parkroyal on Beach Road is giving diners a four-hands experience featuring off-menu dishes by resident chef Zeng Feng and guest chef Peter Tsang. Tsang is the resident chef of the more Cantonese-skewed Si Chuan Dou Hua at UOB Plaza, which is undergoing a major renovation.

Available till May 7, the experience features seven courses and a dessert bar at two prices: $120 and $150 a person.

What will be served at each meal may differ, but at a media tasting last week, I was impressed by chef Zeng's Sichuan dish of Hokkaido wagyu cooked in a pot of scorching oil flavoured with chillies and then mixed in a dip of sesame oil, minced garlic and chilli padi (above).

From chef Tsang, the winning dish was a mix of deep-fried rice and boiled glutinous rice cooked with crabmeat in crab stock.

WHERE: Si Chuan Dou Hua at Parkroyal on Beach Road, 7500 Beach Road MRT: Bugis/Nicoll Highway OPEN: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm daily; omakase till May 7, advance reservation required TEL: 6505-5722


ROBUST PRAWN SOUP

A good bowl of prawn noodles is seldom cheap. But an expensive bowl is not necessarily good.

If you have been to overhyped prawn noodle eateries, such as one in East Coast Road, you would know what I mean. It used to be good, but when I ate there a couple of years ago, the watered-down broth meant the noodles were certainly not worth paying $11.80 for.

There is a better and quieter stall nearby in Joo Chiat Road. Da Dong Prawn Noodles is not cheap either - a bowl costs $5, $8 or $10 - but the stock is much more robust.

There is a dry version that is quite good too, with moreish chilli sauce and plenty of crispy lard bits. It is a little oily though.

The soup, a potent brew of prawn and pork, is the star attraction. There is just enough to cover the noodles though, and in case you are tempted to ask for more, a sign at the stall warns you not to because the result would be a diluted stock. So savour what there is of it.

There is a choice of noodles with just prawns or a mix of prawns and pork ribs (above). I like variety, so I get the one with the ribs, which are simmered till just the right level of tenderness and are full of flavour.

The $8 bowl is barely enough for me, so I usually get the $10 one. The $5 version? It merely lines my stomach.

WHERE: Da Dong Prawn Noodles, 354 Joo Chiat Road MRT: Aljunied OPEN: 8am to 2pm (Wednesdays to Mondays), closed on Tuesdays

Book a meal at Birds of a Feather or Si Chuan Dou Hua with Chope.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2017, with the headline 'Food Picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe