HOMEY JAPANESE FARE
Nobu-Ya in Fortune Centre is small and plain. Unceremonious too, my friend says after she dines there. But this Japanese place, which offers small dishes to go with sake and beer, is my current favourite hangout. The food is good, the prices reasonable and it even plays jazz, my favourite kind of music.
It is run by chef-owner Yoshiyuki Nobukawa and sake sommelier Nobuhiko Sano, both of whom worked at Mikuni, a Japanese restaurant at The Fairmont Singapore, for more than a decade. The food is not fancy, but there is a homey feel to it that appeals to me.
On the counter are bowls covered with clingwrap and I like to see what's on offer. If there is Marinated Deep Fried Chicken ($7), order that. The chicken wings are topped with crisp and tangy pickled carrot and onions. The chicken has no crunch but the vinegar cuts some of its richness and the flavours meld perfectly.
Other good little eats include Noresore Ponzu ($7), baby conger eels in citrus- spiked soya sauce, which slither down the throat in a delightful way. Goma Tofu Agedashi ($6), pudding-like sesame tofu deep fried and served in a soya broth, is excellent too.
Braised Oumi Beef ($18) is hearty and perfect with a bowl of rice. The chunky pieces have a luscious, luxurious quality about them, despite the price. This is something I want to eat after a tiring day at work.
Another would be Tuna Belly Dumpling Hotpot ($15), a soup with balls made up of off-cuts of otoro and sweetened with napa cabbage and seaweed. The idea of cooking otoro seems crazy but this is a good way to use up scraps.
Stick to the cooked dishes because the sashimi is less-than-stellar.
Already, the place is attracting savvy Japanese diners - always a good sign. I just wish it'd stay open later.
Where: Nobu-Ya, 190 Middle Road, Fortune Centre, 01-05 MRT: Bras Basah Open: 6 - 10.30pm (Tue - Sun), closed on Mon Tel: 6338-3450
ZI CHAR LOST AND FOUND
I mourned the closure of one of my favourite zi char places when Le Chasseur disappeared from New Bridge Road. But it has resurfaced in Eunos, in an industrial area where parking is much easier to find. Better yet, the food is still good.
Claypot Chicken Rice ($12 for small, $21 for large) is still made with basmati rice, which cooks up fluffy. The crisp rice on the bottom and sides of the claypot, so prized, is the best part of the dish.
A favourite dish, Barbecued Cuttlefish ($4 for 100g) is back on the menu. It was not available on my last few visits at New Bridge Road. The squid is springy and not overcooked, a joy to eat. What more can a person ask? Air-conditioning would be good, fewer mosquitoes even better. But I am just glad Le Chasseur is back in business.
Where: Le Chasseur, Block 27 Eunos Road 2 MRT: Eunos Open: 11.30am - 3pm, 5.30 - 9.30pm daily Tel: 6337-7677
ENTER THE PORTICO
I know some people who seek out the new constantly. Fashion, books, cocktails, places to eat. So here's a new place to visit: the cluster of buildings up the road from Gillman Barracks, across from Alexandra Retail Centre. Tucked among the buildings housing offices are a Japanese restaurant and Portico, a new, very chill place to hang out.
The chef would be familiar to diners of FiftyThree and Saint Pierre. Leandros Stagogiannis leads the kitchen and has come up with a menu that works through the day.
I'm partial to his Roasted Tomato Soup ($12) with crispy jamon Iberico. The cream tames but does not smother the tang of the tomatoes, it just rounds off some of the harsh edges. Good bread, a little charred, is great dunked in the soup.
Sea Bass Fish And Chips ($19) has a crisp armour that is remarkably grease-free. The thick piece of fish inside is cooked just right, being flaky and tender. I prefer fat chips to the curly fries that come with the dish. So next time, I will ask if I can have more peas in place of fries. Give up spuds? Why yes. Peas and mint are a classic combination and here, they are smashed together and the aroma and pep are irresistible.
Where: Portico, 991B Alexandra Road, 01-10 MRT: Labrador Park Open: 8am - 11.30pm, last order at 10.30pm (Mon - Fri), 11am - 11.30pm (Sat), closed on Sun Tel: 6276-7337
FRIED RICE THAT POPS
A plate of fried rice is such a simple dish but, of course, it is hard to get right. Cafe de Hong Kong at Balestier Road gets it so right I could eat it every day. Its Tobiko Fried Rice (from $10 for a small portion) boasts grains that are resolutely separate. There is no trace of grease either, the downfall of lesser versions. Instead, there is wok hei in spades. That alone would make me happy but the liberal addition of tobiko or flying fish roe takes it up several notches. Those tiny orange spheres go pop-pop-pop with every mouthful. Angels sing in my head. I plot a return visit.
Where: Cafe de Hong Kong, 586 Balestier Road, 01-01 Eastpac Building MRT: Novena Open: 11.30am - 3pm, 5.30 - 11pm, closed on Mon Tel: 6255-3865