FISH CURRY A HIDDEN GEM
After watching the stunning win by Singapore-born Sashi Cheliah in MasterChef Australia, my friend and I decide to celebrate with fish curry, one of the dishes he cooked in the finale.
We could have gone to any number of places, but I have never been to Karu's, which people rave about. And now, having had the fish head curry there, I wonder: Why has this banana leaf restaurant not been beeping wildly on my food radar?
It has been in Bukit Timah for 25 years and is on the fifth floor of what used to be called Sime Darby Centre.
Fish Head Deluxe (from $24 for small) arrives in a metal pot, with a tomato and half a lime on top. The snapper head is just cooked, but what takes my breath away is the smoothness of the dish. There are no sharp edges, no burning heat or inappropriately assertive spice. All is fine and mellow. The okra and chunks of brinjal are tender, but not mushy.
To go with the fish, we have biryani rice, which comes with two papadum, a serving of cabbage cooked with lentils and another of bittergourd stewed with tomatoes ($3.70 a person).
Deep-fried pieces of fish roe ($7.30 for small) are good to have alongside, but skip the curry sotong ($5.70 for small). The squid is unpleasantly tough and chewy.
Masala tea ($3), with a heavy kick of ginger, is just perfect to end the meal and to toast Cheliah's win.
WHERE: Karu's Indian Banana Leaf Restaurant, 05-01, 896 Dunearn Road MRT: King Albert Park TEL: 6762-7284 OPEN: 10.30am to 10pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays INFO: www.karusindianrestaurantcom
HORFUN WITH GOOD WOK HEI
Just when I thought I had tried every good stall at Alexandra Village Food Centre, a friend finds yet another reason to go there.
Hor Fun Premium turns out plate after plate of wide rice noodles full of what is becoming so elusive - wok hei, the expert charring of food in a crazy hot wok.
Mui fan is also on the menu, but why bother? Go for the horfun (above, $4.50 or $7), which can be topped with sliced fish, a mix of seafood or beef.
The toppings don't matter much to me and, truth be told, the fish could be fresher. Really, the star of the show is the horfun. Its smokiness is off the charts and I wish the cooks would not blanket the noodles with so much sauce. I shall urge restraint the next time I eat there.
And possibly order a large platter of har cheong kai, or prawn paste chicken (left, $8 to $12). It is one of the better versions I have had. There is never enough prawn paste, I always say, but this stall goes further than most places. The chicken wings are greaseless and crisp, paramount for any kind of deep-fried chicken.
So, roast meats at Lau Phua Chay, soya sauce chicken noodles and giant shrimp dumplings from Xiang Jiang, Old Punggol Satay or Hor Fun Premium?
The only thing certain is that I'll be washing my meal down with an avocado shake.
WHERE: Hor Fun Premium, 01-78 Alexandra Village Food Centre, 120 Bukit Merah Lane 1 MRT: Queenstown OPEN: 10.30am to 2.30pm, 5 to 8.30pm daily
DELIGHTFUL VEGGIE TART
Yes, I know the focus is on bread. That fact is trumpeted on the menu at Lowe'f. Just under the name are the words "pronounced as loaf", in case there is any doubt.
But my favourite thing on the menu at this cafe is not a sandwich - it's Garden Tart (left, $11), a vegetarian thing of beauty I could eat every day. The crisp tart shell, also used for Lowe'f's Dark Chocolate Tart ($5.50), is filled with brioche foam and crammed with veggies.
The version I have is filled with braised red cabbage, leeks, cherry tomatoes, baby potatoes, edamame, mushrooms, pickled carrot and spinach and showered with toasted sourdough breadcrumbs.
Textures and flavours come at warp speed. Soft and yielding versus snappy. Zingy versus savoury. And the tart dough is delightfully short, which is to say it has a good fat-to-flour ratio. In the middle of it all is that brioche foam, full of umami. This is alchemy that works.
Of course, the sandwiches, which form the bulk of the menu, call out to me.
Salted Beef Brisket ($16) tastes better than it looks. The shreds of beef look grey, but pack a lot of flavour from a five-day brining. Better yet, the slices of rye Pullman are properly toasted and crisp. Grain mustard provides the required lift.
Porky Pig ($15) would be perfect if the slices of pork belly had more meat. The fat is wobbly and delicious, no doubt, but it is impossible to eat all three slices plus the brioche bun without needing a nap after lunch.
Of course, you could fight that with Super Lemon Tart ($5.50). The lavender flowers and shavings of white chocolate do not distract from what makes this a great dessert for me - very tart lemon curd.
WHERE: Lowe'f Artisanal, 1 Queen Street MRT: Bras Basah TEL: 8767-4859 OPEN: 8am to 6pm (weekdays), 8.30am to 6pm (Saturdays), closed on Sundays INFO: www.facebook.com/lowef.co
TASTY FOOD AT ALEXANDRA HOSPITAL
A hospital, and I say this from experience, is not a place anybody would associate with good food.
And yet I found myself at Alexandra Hospital's The Gathering Place, a souped-up coffee shop with a handful of stalls.
The hospital is set on lush grounds and there is something very calming and tranquil about the chill-out space, which is not packed even at lunchtime.
I home in on beef noodles from The Legend Of Tzao. Bull Market (left, $4.50) is a bowl of thick beehoon blanketed with thinly sliced steak and a rich brown sauce.
That sauce is thick, but not gluggy, and the perfume of sesame oil sets it apart from other versions I have eaten. The beef is not premium, but it does not taste artificially tenderised either.
Next time, I shall try Triple Bull ($4), noodles topped with shank, tendon and tripe; and Bulleto ($3.50), with beef balls.
Another stall worth checking out is Simply Sedap. Just $3 gets you a large bowl of lontong or mee rebus. The lontong is topped generously with serunding and a not-too-hot sambal. While the gravy is a tad sweet, like the mee rebus one, both taste like they have been made with care and would make a good lunch.
Who knew hospital food could be good?
WHERE: The Gathering Place, Block 29 Alexandra Hospital, 378 Alexandra Road MRT: Queenstown OPEN: The Legend Of Tzao (weekdays, 8.30am to 3pm), Simply Sedap (weekdays, 7.30am to 2.30pm)
Correction note: An earlier version of the article had a wrong address for Hor Fun Premium. We are sorry for the error.