CLASSIC COCKTAILS, JUICY OYSTERS
The low lighting at Gibson, a bar in a Bukit Pasoh shophouse, makes picture taking a nightmare, especially if, like me, you post your eating adventures on Facebook and Instagram.
So the best thing to do is to put the phone away and relax in the 36-seat bar.
The cocktail to order is of course The Gibson ($24), a gin and vermouth classic made here with Hendrick's and Monkey 47 gin, and Dolin vermouth. It is usually garnished with a pickled onion but Aki Eguchi, 34, the bar programme director, adds a spin to the potent cocktail by offering three garnishes: a house-pickled pearl onion, smoked quail's egg and smoked radish. The smoky egg and radish are particularly good with the cocktail although the tartness of the onion wakes me up instantly.
Another smart twist on a classic is the Crystal Ramos Gin Fizz ($23). It is clear, rather than cloudy with egg white and the bubbles hit the nose and palate in a fun way.
The concise menu is made up mostly of seafood, with owners Indra Kantono, 32, and Gan Guoyi, 31, importing some very good oysters from the Pacific Northwest in the United States. The selection changes and on my recent visits, the springy Barley Lagoon and lush Sea Cow ones have been terrific. Others include Shigoku Fat Bastards, Blue Pool and Peale Passage.
Oysters cost $6 or $7 each, but prices drop to $2 or $3 each during Oyster Happy Hour, which runs all night on Tuesdays and from 5 to 7pm on Mondays and Wednesdays to Saturdays.
While seafood is everywhere on the menu, there is one meat dish: carpaccio of Blackmore wagyu with sea urchin, lobster and caviar ($130). It sounds over the top and it is but, oh, how delicious it all is.
WHERE: Gibson, Level 2, 20 Bukit Pasoh Road MRT: Outram OPEN: 5pm to midnight (Monday to Saturday), closed on Sunday TEL: 9114-8385 INFO: www.gibsonbar.sg
GENEROUS HELPINGS OF BEEF AT PHO TAI
It has become easier to get a pho fix in Singapore in the last few years, with more Vietnamese restaurants opening here.
Add Pho Tai to the list. The Vietnamese restaurant in Capitol Piazza is a branch of a decade-old business in Paris.
The Beef Combination Pho ($9.90, above) comes in a light coloured broth that looks deceptively mild. However, it is full of the natural sweetness of beef. It is a pity that the kitchen is heavy-handed with the salt and black pepper. The seasonings threaten to overwhelm the subtle nuances of the broth. I shall have to ask them to hold the pepper next time.
One thing I really appreciate about the bowl is that the kitchen takes the trouble to shave the onions thinly. There is nothing pleasant about biting into a thick chunk, not fully cooked in the broth. The noodles seem thinner than the kind used in other places too. Generous slices of lean beef, brisket and chunks of tendon all add to the allure of the bowl.
WHERE: Pho Tai, B2-54 Capitol Piazza, 13 Stamford Road MRT: City Hall OPEN: 11.30am to 9.30pm daily TEL: 6702-1181
LIGHT PILLOWY PANCAKES
Tucked away on the fourth floor of Bugis Cube is Pancake Boss, which sells Martabak Manis, Indonesian-style pancakes with different fillings. Service is interminably slow - the estimated 20-minute waiting time stretches to an hour - because the pancakes are made to order.
They are similar to the peanut ones called mee jiang kueh here, but the batter looks like kueh ambon when cooked. Crisp edges are a good contrast to the soft and springy centre and, overall, the pancakes are much lighter than you would expect.
The best of the three I try is Corn + Cheese ($8.20, above). A light, pillowy pancake is sandwiched with juicy kernels of corn and freshly grated cheese. The contrast of sweet and savoury tilts towards savoury and that is fine by me.
Matcha KitKat + Cheese ($10.50) would taste better if there was a stronger matcha flavour. But I like the cheese in it. Salted Caramel + Kacang ($7.50) does not have much salted caramel, but the peanuts make it a classic. I'll call ahead and order next time.
WHERE: Pancake Boss, 04-15 Bugis Cube, 470 North Bridge Road MRT: Bugis OPEN: Noon to 8pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday TEL: 9066-2912
SOPHISTICATED COMFORT FOOD
The friendly vibe at Club Street Social in Gemmill Lane has always been inviting. That has not changed after a recent revamp. In fact, I like it much better now because the new menu is great. Don't get me wrong, the salads and sandwiches before were good but now, the sophisticated comfort food served is even better.
One of these dishes would be the Farro "Risotto" ($21, photo). Farro, a grain that was a staple in ancient Rome, is cooked until tender and its nutty flavour is a winner with the baby artichokes and tangy tomato and capers. I have not seen it on any restaurant menus here recently, so kudos to the restaurant for introducing it. It's about time too, since farro, like kale and quinoa, has been making the rounds in foodie cities.
Other good things include juicy pork and veal meatballs on a bed of Romesco sauce ($16) and velvety Smoked Yellowtail ($18) with shaved fennel, olives and burnt orange. The green olives are a delightful surprise here, adding a hint of brininess which goes well with the rich fish.
Another winner is the Kale Salad ($15) with crisp bulgur wheat and anchovies. Some of the kale leaves are deep-fried and they have a satisfying bite that contrasts with the softer, raw kale leaves. Needless to say, I like the crisp ones better.
WHERE: Club Street Social, 5 Gemmill Lane MRT: Telok Ayer OPEN: Noon to midnight (Monday to Friday), 11am to midnight (Saturday), closed on Sunday TEL: 6225-5043 INFO: www.facebook.com/clubstreetsocial