Food Picks: Blue Label Pizza & Wine, St Marc Cafe, Azmi Restaurant and Summer Hill

J-Dog
J-DogPHOTO: BLUE LABEL PIZZA & WINE
Nara
NaraST PHOTO: TAN HSUEH YUN
Aromatic, spiced food at Azmi Restaurant
Aromatic, spiced food at Azmi RestaurantST PHOTO: TAN HSUEH YUN
 Chicken in Tray So
Chicken in Tray SoPHOTO: SUMMER HILL

Tan Hsueh Yun Life Editor recommends

BEST PIZZA IN SINGAPORE?

If you do a Google search of Blue Label Pizza, the first result reads Blue Label Pizza - The Best Pizza in Singapore.

Confident or arrogant?

One thing is for sure, the new restaurant by American chef Travis Masiero, who also owns Luke's in Gemmill Lane and The Heeren, is worth checking out.

Blue Label Pizza & Wine, which takes over the old B28 Whisky Bar premises in Ann Siang Road, is set to be one of my favourite hangout spots, the way Luke's was until the prices made me dizzy and I couldn't afford to eat there anymore.

For now, I can still afford one of Masiero's pizzas. Maybe even two. It will be tough picking them, but I'll try.

The two I like best are Umami Bomb and Salmon Gravlax EBP ($29 each).

Umami Bomb lives up to its name, with sliced shiitake mushrooms, spinach, lemon, anchovies and goat cheese, all known for their deeply savoury flavour. Combine them and the pizza is robust and gutsy. I do not miss the meat. Better yet, the toppings sit on a phenomenally crisp cornmeal crust which does not sag in the middle. I usually leave behind the rim of the crust, but finish every bit of the one at Blue Label.

I initially dismissed Salmon Gravlax as gimmicky, but I judged too soon. The EBP in the name is Everything Bagel Pizza and the rim of the crust is studded with sesame and fennel seeds, which usually go on top of bagels. The salmon slices are firm, the chive cream cheese softens and becomes creamy on the hot crust, and I would like to buy jars of the tangy pickled onion.

A good option for meat lovers is the J-Dog ($32), a red sauce pizza topped with pork sausage, bacon and pepperoni. What stops this one from inducing food coma? Slices of pickled jalapeno, which cut through the richness of the meat.

There are other good things to order. Chicago-style Spinach & Artichoke Dip ($21) makes for compulsive eating, although I would prefer the handmade potato chips the chef used to turn out at Wine Garage many years ago, to the corn chips he serves with the dip. Berkel Sliced Meats & Kielbasa ($34) with Iberian ham, coppa, fennel salame and Polish sausage is excellent too. I wish the flavourful and snappy kielbasa would make its way onto a pizza.

For dessert, there is soft serve. The flavours vary and the current Spiced Pumpkin Swirl ($8) has the benefit of not being sweet. It is a strange dessert that is almost devoid of sweetness, but the thick, creamy texture makes me go back again and again with my spoon.

If all this food isn't enough, order Grandma's Carrot Cake ($12), a slab the size of an HDB block. It is homespun but sophisticated, the way Blue Label is.

The Best Pizza in Singapore? For now it is.

WHERE: Blue Label Pizza & Wine, 28 Ann Siang Road MRT: Telok Ayer OPEN: Noon to 2pm, 6pm till late (weekdays), 6pm till late (Saturdays), closed on Sundays TEL: 9821-9362 INFO: bluelabelpizza.com


ANMITSU AT ST MARC CAFE

All my life, I have preferred savoury food to sweet. Now, I keep craving dessert.

For this, I blame Kantaro, The Sweet Tooth Salaryman.

He is the lead character in the Netflix show of the same name I am obsessed about. The series, based on a manga called Saboriman Ametani Kantarou, is about Kantaro (played by Matsuya Onoe), a salesman for a book publishing company who loves sweet stuff. He gets through endless visits to bookstores in double-quick time just so he can squeeze in a dessert or four.

What makes this series so compelling is that he visits shops that exist in real life, unlike the fictional Midnight Diner and the anonymous little eateries in Samurai Gourmet, both also on Netflix.

And so I was nursing a craving for anmitsu, the subject of the first episode of Kantaro.

I remembered having a good one at St Marc Cafe recently and headed out again for it on a Sunday. Like Kantaro in his previous IT job, I have time to indulge only on weekends.

The Japanese chain is better known for Chococro, a chocolate croissant, but anmitsu was what I was after. It is usually made up of cubes of agar and dressed up with ice cream, fruit and red bean paste. The name comes from anko or red bean paste and mitsu, the black or white sugar syrup poured over the dessert before eating.

St Marc has three versions (all $8.20) and Nara is my favourite because it has cubes of the most heavenly and wobbly matcha jelly. Gion comes with mochi balls and Miyako with warabi mochi coated with kinako or roasted soya bean powder.

Otherwise, all three feature soft-serve ice cream, a dollop of anko and a satisfyingly bitter matcha ice cream. None of them is too sweet and I love how the mochi balls in Gion do not become hard from the cold soft-serve and ice cream.

Now, I am on the hunt for kakigori, essentially Japanese ice kacang. It is the subject of the second episode.

Heaven help my waistline.

WHERE: St Marc Cafe, 02-105 Marina Square, 6 Raffles Boulevard MRT: Promenade OPEN: 9am to 9.30pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 9am to 10pm (Fridays and Saturdays) TEL: 6338-8606 INFO: www.facebook.com/SaintMarcCafeSingapore


AROMATIC, SPICED FOOD AT AZMI RESTAURANT

As you read this, I am galloping around Tokyo, eating and eating.

When I am done travelling, I know I will have a fierce longing for something spicy. It always happens. Despite being a terrible chilli coward, I sometimes crave heat in my food.

So when I am back, I'll head to Azmi Restaurant at the junction of Serangoon and Norris roads for a meal.

Its chapati (90 cents each) are legendary and the reputation is well-deserved. The flatbreads are beautifully thin, stretchy and a little smoky from being cooked on a tava.

Mutton keema ($3.40) is perfect alongside. It is perfectly spiced and studded with peas, made to be folded into the chapati. I love that it is not so hot that my head explodes.

Equally good is a vegetable melange ($1.30) with greens, potatoes, onions and cauliflower. None of the vegetables is overcooked or undercooked. If you have bitten into an undercooked cube of potato, you will know my pain. Instead of heat, aromatic spices take centre stage.

WHERE: Azmi Restaurant, 166 Serangoon Road MRT: Little India OPEN: 7.30am to 10pm daily TEL: 9428-0203


RUSTIC FRENCH DISHES AT SUMMER HILL

If you have missed the roast chicken at Cocotte in Little India, which has closed, here's good news.

The restaurant's former head chef, Anthony Yeoh, has opened a restaurant in Sunset Way serving that beautifully burnished bird and other rustic French dishes.

All the food can be ordered for delivery or pickup. The idea is to make it easy for customers to have friends around for a fuss-free meal, without having to slave away in the kitchen.

The chicken ( $25 for half, $45 for whole) comes with two side dishes, which change regularly, and gravy. On the day I try the chicken, the side dishes are green beans and roasted cherry tomatoes with bacon-walnut dressing, and potato wedges ($4 each a la carte).

Snappy beans and soft tomatoes in that rich dressing are magic together, but I find the wedges a little burnt. The oven has to be tamed. But that fierce heat works for the chicken, crisping the skin. Brining keeps the meat juicy.

Pork Collar with a creamy grain and Dijon mustard sauce ($25) is another offering and the pork is delightfully springy and charred where it needs to be. All I need is some acidity in the sauce. The peas, tomatoes and duck fat-roasted potatoes served alongside are simple and satisfying.

Summer Hill also offers a quiche and a sweet tart every day. The bacon and spinach quiche ($8 a slice) stands tall and the filling holds together only just. A little wobble is always a good thing.

If the olive oil, orange and rosemary cake ($3 a slice) is available, order it. That aromatic slice is just what I need after a winner of a chicken dinner.

WHERE: Summer Hill, 01-62, Block 106 Clementi Street 12 MRT: Clementi OPEN: 11.30am to 9.30pm daily TEL: 6251-5337 INFO: www.summerhill.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2018, with the headline 'Food Picks'. Print Edition | Subscribe