At about midnight, when I finally got home, I cut into a sourdough baguette I had bought hours before.
There was no reason to expect much. It had been sitting in the car and in the office for much of the day. The crust crackled. I took a bite. Then another. Until the slice was all gone.
The bread was from Slow Bakes, a chill cafe at the lobby of Oasia Hotel in Novena. It serves primo loaves and buns. While the bun fillings might seem commonplace - curry, coconut, cheese and matcha, among others - it is sourdough that envelops them. Chewy, flavourful bread makes a good change from the soft, sweet buns that are everywhere.
If it is available when you go, snag a Coconut Bun ($2.80). I told the friendly Taiwanese woman who runs the place that it is my favourite bun because it reminds me of childhood. But this is unlike the buns I had as a kid.
Aside from the bread, which has much more personality, the generous filling is not coloured a violent orange. It is the colour of dark caramel and just sweet enough. Have it with the cafe's ultra-smooth cappuccino ($6.50) for an instant perk-me-up.
Bullet-shaped curry buns ($2.80 each) are filled with spicy potatoes that pack an unexpected punch. I have become used to insipid curry buns with undercooked spices, so this is an excellent surprise. The Cheese Poro ($2.80), with a rough hewn covering, sort of like a polo bun, is filled with cheddar. I thought of how the cheese would have had no personality at all in a sweet bun.
Deserving an honourable mention is the Matcha Cream Croissant ($3). Good powdered Japanese green tea goes into the topping so, in addition to sweet, there is a wisp of bitter.
In my kitchen after a slice of Sourdough Baguette ($4), I was tempted to cut myself another slice. Instead, I turned to the handsome Country Sourdough ($8) loaf instead and sliced a big piece off the end. Butter? Kaya? Marmite peanut butter? No. It was perfect on its own, tasting of the time taken and care given.
Magic at midnight? Magic all day, I would say.
WHERE: Slow Bakes, 01-05 Oasia Hotel, 8 Sinaran Drive MRT: Novena TEL: 6397-2289 OPEN: 7am to 8.30pm daily
BAK CHOR MEE WITH THE WORKS
While nursing a fierce craving for bak chor mee recently, I went through a list of favourite places in my head.
Crawford Street? Nah, parking's mad. Verdun Road? Parking's mad. Hong Lim Food Centre? Parking's mad, mad, mad.
I ended up in a Bukit Batok coffee shop, at Ah Kow Mushroom Minced Pork Mee. The original is at Hong Lim and this stall was born out of a family feud.
Parking was decidedly not mad, so I did not expect a queue, but there was a constant one about 10-deep all through lunch.
I ordered Minced Meat Noodle ($4, $5 or $6) with my usual mee kia and the strands were slightly thicker than at other places. It was a small thing, but the noodles were less springy than I would have liked.
Never mind, I thought to myself, the chilli is really punchy and the bowl is loaded with goodies - wontons, slices of lean pork, a pile of minced pork, slices of stewed mushroom, cubes of crisp lard and, best of all, a generous piece of aromatic dried sole.
The umami the fish imparts was worth the trip there.
My friend and I also ordered a Teo Chew Dumpling Soup ($4, $5 or $6) to share, and if you do not want to deal with thicker-than-usual noodles, or noodles at all, order this. It is just loaded with all the accompaniments, sitting in a light but flavourful pork broth. A mighty large curl of dried sole made me unaccountably happy.
Happy enough to go back to Bukit Batok.
WHERE: Ah Kow Mushroom Minced Pork Mee, Block 359 Bukit Batok Street 31 MRT: Bukit Gombak OPEN: 7am to 3pm (Mondays to Thursdays), 7am to 3pm (Sundays), closed on Fridays and Saturdays
SINGAPOREAN FAVOURITES WITH A TWIST
Can you go to a restaurant three times a day? I think I could go to Relish at least that number of times.
For lunch, where I would order rice or noodles; at teatime for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake; then after work, for izakaya food.
The restaurant at Frasers Tower transforms into Roketto Izakaya from 6 to 11pm from Tuesdays to Saturdays, serving small plates that are a twist on Singapore food.
I am pleased to report that Har Jeong Tin Gai ($12) is now permanently on the menu. Frog legs are marinated in pungent prawn paste then deep-fried. Under the armour is my current food obsession, oh-so-finely textured frog meat. Much better than the usual chicken.
Another clever twist on a local favourite is Aburaage Rojak Salad ($15). Prawn paste of a different sort takes centre stage here. Usually used as a dressing for rojak, hae ko is made into an ice cream for this dish. The rojak has a base of aburaage, the Japanese version of taupok. On it is piled prawns, pineapple, jicama, mango and bonito flakes. That pungent, punchy ice cream melts into the rojak, its flavour bringing the salad ingredients to life. Take that, dog days of summer.
An old favourite is back - Curry Chicken Shepherd's Pie ($15.80), Sarawak-style curry with chicken thigh and potatoes, and lashings of cheese to neutralise the heat.
I would also order Fish Collagen Broth ($5), rich and thick, with housemade fish cake and a slick of garlic oil. Like everything else on the menu, the flavour is bold and unapologetic. So very Singaporean.
WHERE: Roketto Izakaya, Relish at Frasers Tower, 02-12/13 Frasers Tower, 182 Cecil Street MRT: Tanjong Pagar TEL: 6904-5458 OPEN: 6 to 11pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays) INFO: www.facebook.com/ RelishFrasers
When I buy rosemary, thyme or dill for cooking, I often marvel at the price supermarkets charge for a couple sprigs of aromatics. There must be some way to work extravagantly flavourful local herbs into more of my cooking. My pocket would hurt less, if nothing else.
Summer Hill, a casual French-inflected restaurant in Sunset Way, is offering just what I am talking about, for this month. The Fried Flower Fritter ($19) is supposed to be a National Day special, but I hope it stays on the menu.
It looks like a kakiage, a Japanese tempura tower usually studded with vegetables and seafood.
Summer Hill's chef Anthony Yeoh uses banana flowers soaked in buttermilk, hummingbird flower petals and turmeric, kaffir lime and moringa leaves. Baby prawns contribute even more crunch.
All of this is held together with a tempura batter flavoured with garam masala. It tastes good as is, but spoon over some torch ginger and lemon salsa verde, thickened with candlenuts, and that is one aromatic, heady appetiser.
The other special, Hainanese Fried Veal Chop ($75, serves two), uses Dutch milk-fed veal instead of pork. The panko-crusted chop sits atop a hot tomato and caramelised onion vinaigrette. This is a very high-end take on Hainanese pork chop, with juicy, beautifully pink meat. Good though it is, I cannot help but hanker after a more bracing ketchup-based sauce, with canned peas, onions and undercooked potato wedges.
Roasted baby potatoes and a vegetable melange of baby carrots, green beans, turnips and peas are served alongside to make a complete meal.
WHERE: Summer Hill, 01-62, Block 106 Clementi Street 12 MRT: Clementi TEL: 6251-5337 OPEN: Noon to 3pm, 5 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays), 11.30am to 4pm, 5 to 10.30pm (Fridays to Sundays), closed on Mondays INFO: www.summerhill.sg