HIGH TEA TREATS
Tea time in Singapore can be a curry puff and a cup of tea or a zip-busting, food coma-inducing meal involving multiple trips to the buffet.
Somewhere in between is High Tea at National Kitchen by Violet Oon at the National Gallery Singapore. In the plush setting of the restaurant, tea is served daily from 3 to 5pm, and sharing the Singapore High Tea Set ($56++ for two) with a friend is a good way to while away the afternoon.
It is served on a three-tiered stand whose design was inspired by tingkat food carriers and on the plates are six savoury treats and six sweet ones. Both selections are good, but I prefer savoury food so those are the ones I polish off first.
Otak Otak Open-Faced Sandwiches feature thick pieces of the fish custard and have plenty of bite. The dainty Eurasian Prawn and Hae Bee Hiam Sandwiches, wrapped in the middle with a thin slice of cucumber, taste old-school. I am also partial to the Buah Keluak Crostini, where a tiny quenelle of the pungent black Indonesian nut paste sits on a coconut biscuit.
Sweet bites include Roti Jala with gula melaka banana sauce and Kueh Dadar. While they look and taste good, they are tiny. A little more heft would be welcome.
The set comes with coffee or tea and the aromatic Kopi VO with evaporated milk is a good accompaniment. The food is plenty for two at tea time, but those still feeling peckish can order Dry Laksa at $14++ for two.
WHERE: National Kitchen by Violet Oon, National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road MRT: City Hall TEL: 9834-9935 OPEN: Tea served 3 to 5pm daily, last order at 4pm INFO: www.violetoon.com
I admit to rolling my eyes when I receive press materials for Pizza Express, a British chain of restaurants with almost 600 outlets in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and, now, Singapore. Chain restaurants are not my thing.
But the restaurant looks inviting, curiosity gets the better of me and I am happy to say the pizzas are worth going back for.
The signature Calabrese ($26, photo) has a brittle crust that thin-crust pizza fans will love. It has a bit of a kick too, with spicy nduja, which is a spreadable Calabrian-style sausage; slices of spicy Italian sausage; and chillies. Pickled jalapeno peppers are a strange addition, but they mitigate the richness of the mozzarella and Grana Padano cheeses.
As good as that is, I like La Reine ($16), from the list of Classic Pizzas, better. These pies have a thicker crust, but are not stodgy. In fact, the crust crackles when you bite into it and then gives way to a pleasant chewiness. And you cannot go wrong with a topping of mushrooms, olives, ham, mozzarella and tomato sauce.
WHERE: Pizza Express, 6 Scotts Road, Scotts Square, B1-08/09 MRT: Orchard TEL: 6538-0083 OPEN: 11.30am to 10pm daily INFO: www.pizzaexpress.sg
TEOCHEW SOUL FOOD
Fragrant Garden Teochew Cuisine has been in business since the 1980s, but I discover it only when a foodie friend organises dinner there.
And what a find it is. The restaurant in a nondescript building serves Teochew soul food and I plan to visit often.
There are two dishes I will always order.
One is Pomfret Soup (the fish is priced at $8 for 100g and a pot will cost, on average, $60).
The claypot of soup arrives at the table bubbling and full of fish. Get them out of the pot quickly, so the slices do not overcook. The beautiful fish broth is naturally sweet and I slurp bowl after bowl, ignoring the beads of sweat on my forehead. Napa cabbage and pieces of yam round it off.
The other is Teochew Cold Crab (photo, $35 to $50 a crab).
Big is not necessarily better when it comes to crustaceans and these hide a delicious secret: They are packed with sweet, firm meat that is easy to liberate from thin shells.
If there is room for dessert, order Yam Paste With Pumpkin & Ginkgo Nut (from $4).
Although it looks like grey sludge, the aromatic shallot oil in the dessert is an unexpected and very welcome touch. Not many places bother with it these days.
The sprawling menu will keep me busy for a while. Braised duck and kway teow fried with preserved radish are in my sights.
WHERE: Fragrant Garden Teochew Cuisine, 756 Upper Serangoon Road, Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, 01-15/16 MRT: Serangoon TEL: 6289-7301 OPEN: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30 to 10pm, closed on Monday INFO: fragrantgarden.com.sg
DUNK FRIED FISH INTO TOMYUM
After all the trouble cooks go through to make food crisp, the least eaters can do is to respect the effort. Yet, we dunk youtiao in hot coffee, eat goreng pisang with ice cream and blithely tuck into tendon rice topped with tempura that is drizzled with sauce. We are all seeking the magic of crispy-soggy.
At Joe's Kitchen in Bukit Merah Lane 1 recently, I experience the happy clash of contrasting textures in tomyum soup (from $6.80). Apart from seafood, prawns, sliced fish or chicken, you can opt to have it with fried fish (photo).
A claypot of soup arrives at the table, with a plate piled with battered and deep-fried pieces of dory fish. I dip a piece of fish in the soup, take a bite and delicious shivers go down my spine. This is like ordering fried fish for fish soup, but the hot, sour and salty tomyum broth is more interesting for dunking.
WHERE: Joe's Kitchen Thai Cuisine, Block 125 Bukit Merah Lane 1, 01-182 MRT: Queenstown TEL: 6270-8484 OPEN: 11am to 3pm, 5 to 10pm daily INFO: joesthaikitchen.com/wp