Tras Street is packed with restaurants and it is easy to overlook Kanda Wadatsumi.
It is quite low-key, but the food there is good enough that I want to go back again and again.
For starters, order Jikasei Goma Tofu ($8), housemade and served with a soya sauce-based dressing and a dab of freshly grated wasabi. There are no soya beans in it. Instead, the "tofu" is made with ground sesame and water, with kudzu powder to firm it up. So all you taste is the aromatic sesame.
Japanese Tomato And Oba Leaf With Bonito Dressing ($10) boasts a really sweet tomato, perfect on a hot night. I love the Ninjin Salada ($12, above) too, with thin, sweet shavings of purple and yellow carrot topped with crisply fried shredded potatoes.
A tart Umeshiso Maki ($8) is a great palate cleanser. The rice and nori are rolled up with preserved plum and shiso leaves, so bracing and refreshing.
Two main courses stand out for me. One is Tai Kabuto Takikomi Gohan ($38, above), which is sometimes served as the last course in a kaiseki meal. It is basically a seabream head cooked on rice in a claypot and the aroma can drive a person crazy with longing. After presenting it at the table, the server takes the claypot back to the kitchen, where the fish is deboned. You will want seconds of the fragrant rice and sweet fish. The restaurant rolls the leftovers into onigiri or rice balls to enjoy the next day.
On the night I dine there, there is also Maguro Kama Shioyaki ($80), a special. It is tuna collar simply grilled with salt. A hunk of bone arrives at the table and we take our time excavating it. The reward is big chunks of flaky, tender meat, well hidden.
I have been looking for a restaurant to go to for this sort of food - not sushi, not kaiseki, not fusion Japanese, just good, homey dishes. Well, it looks like I've found it.
WHERE: Kanda Wadatsumi, 50 Tras Street MRT: Tanjong Pagar OPEN: Noon - 3pm, 6 - 11pm (Mon - Sat), closed on Sun & public holiday TEL: 6221-6264
RED BARON AT GILLMAN
Gillman Barracks is the perfect chill-out place for lunch and the number of restaurants there is growing.
Red Baron, named after the tall, ornamental grass that grows outside the cafe, bakery and bar, is a new addition. It has a concise but interesting menu and two dishes are well worth trying.
Quinoa Goreng ($16) is an interesting way to eat the grain. It usually features in salads, but Red Baron uses red quinoa to make a dish very similar to fried rice. Chunks of chicken and chopped-up prawn make the dish substantial and it has a spicy kick from sliced chillies. The dish is topped with a sunny-side-up egg and a sprinkling of crisp ikan bilis. I love the gentle crunch that quinoa gives the dish, something you would not get with rice. All this dish needs is vegetables.
Another good one is the vegetarian Barley & Kale Salad ($14). Pearl barley, butter beans, walnuts, feta and garlic chips feature in it and these goodies sit on kale leaves. Chilli flakes are a good surprise and so are the fresh, aromatic dill fronds. Who knew chilli and dill would go together?
WHERE: Red Baron, 45 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks MRT: Labrador Park OPEN: 11am - 6pm (Tue - Sun), closed on Mon TEL: 6334-6734
THE SUSHI BAR DINING
The Sushi Bar at Far East Plaza is one of those success stories I marvel at.
It opened in the mall in October 2012 with 24 seats, then eight months later, expanded to become a 55-seater. Since August last year, it has been operating from a new unit in the same mall, with 76 seats.
Now, there is The Sushi Bar Dining at Ngee Ann City, which seats 108.
Even during its soft launch period early last month, there was already a good crowd. It is easy to see why. The food, while not bargain-basement cheap, is as fresh as you can get for the price.
Standouts include the Uni Ikura Chawanmushi ($15.90), velvety egg custard topped with sweet sea urchin and pearls of salmon roe. It screams luxury, but the price is entirely reasonable.
So is Wagyu Don ($34.90, above). The beef has a good sear on the outside and is properly medium rare in the middle. Some slices are a bit sinewy, but otherwise, it is satisfying.
WHERE: The Sushi Bar Dining, 05-34/35 Ngee Ann City MRT: Orchard OPEN: 11.30am - 9.30pm daily TEL: 8818-3535 (reservations are taken via SMS only)
NASI LEMAK KUKUS
One of my favourite spots for dinner is Nasi Lemak Kukus, which used to be in Upper Thomson Road. It has since relocated to Selegie Road and I am happy to report that the steamed coconut rice is still very aromatic and the sweet and spicy sambals are just as good as before.
The prices seem reasonable. Rice with five items costs $4 and rice plus a chicken wing and four items will set you back $5. But don't kid yourself. I have never had a meal here for under $10 because there are too many temptations. A whole fried fish, ikan bilis, peanuts, omelette and beef rendang are musts for me and this combination (above) costs $11.20.
You can have a perfectly good meal without the beef and whole fish, however. After all, that beautiful rice and those perky sambals are what make the dish.
WHERE: Nasi Lemak Kukus, 229 Selegie Road MRT: Little India OPEN: Noon - 11pm (Mon - Sat), closed on Sun TEL: 8222-9517