PORK BELLY WINNER
In a sea of cookie-cutter cafes, all of which seem to offer matcha lattes, waffles and Eggs Benedict or, indeed, all three, it is a relief to find none of these things on the menu of The Daily Press.
This new cafe in Toa Payoh has a small menu of well-curated sandwiches toasted in a panini press, which explains the name.
Babi Pongteh ($12, right) is the one that calls out my name. Slices of belly pork braised in tau cheo or fermented soya beans are sandwiched between ciabatta and garnished with carrot, cucumber, lettuce and sprigs of coriander.
The cafe's take on this classic Peranakan dish is a winner. It is hard to go wrong with pork belly, but the slices of meat are thoroughly infused with the flavour of the tau cheo without being too salty. Crunchy vegetables and hits of coriander just make it even better.
Also on the menu are three dishes for sharing, all priced at $9.
Brussel sprouts, shaping up to be this year's kale, are roasted with miso, honey mustard and tossed with hazelnuts. It is an unusual offering in a cafe, but delicious and healthy to boot.
I can't imagine why anyone would want to share the Baked Egg, since it is perfect for one.
Eggplant and tomatoes are cooked together, with cubes of feta added. An egg is baked on top of the dish and it is served with polenta sticks. This is a rib-sticking meal at any time of the day.
Where: The Daily Press, Block 126 Toa Payoh Lorong 1, 01-561
MRT: Braddell Tel: 6258-0167
Open: 10.30am - 9.30pm (Tue - Sun), closed on Mon
A LITTLE FUN WITH OMAKASE
Entering the dimly lit, windowless sushi bar of Chotto Matte is like being transported to a neighbourhood izakaya in Japan. The place is slightly grungy and there is not much space to move around.
But if value-for-money omakase is what you seek, come here. The fish may not be as sweet and luxurious as the selection at top-end sushi places, but at $100 a person for an omakase meal, it seems churlish to complain.
Chef Roy Chee, who worked in sushi restaurants here before relocating to Zurich, where he worked for 13 years, slices his fish thick and sits them on small balls of rice, which sometimes fall apart.
Some of his creations are excellent, however. The best nigiri sushi is shiro- maguro. The fish, a variety of cod, is marinated in wine, olive oil, garlic, spices and shoyu and smoked for four to six hours. Smoky and rich, it is something I'd go back for.
Other highlights include chawanmushi topped with a thick disk of ankimo (top). The monkfish liver makes me forgive the too-firm egg
custard. A Japanese "dim sum" of scallop with mentaiko mayonnaise, topped with foie gras and flying fish roe (middle), is rich, a little over the top and fun to eat.
There is also a whole kyuri-uo (above), a fish that smells like cucumber, in a vinegar sauce that manages not to smother the sweetness of the fish. The bowl of Inaniwa udon in a delicate fish stock makes an excellent end to the meal.
Where: Chotto Matte, 54 Blair Road
MRT: Outram Park Tel: 6222-8846
Open: 11.30am - midnight daily
TANGY FISH SKIN AND CHIPS
When zi char goes travelling around the world, the result is The Prawn Star, a seafood restaurant in Duxton Hill.
The food draws influences from South Korea, Australia, Vietnam and Japan, and some of its offerings are good.
Start with Sriracha Caramel Popcorn ($8), the popped kernels glazed with the popular chilli sauce and caramel. Sweet, hot and crunchy, they make a good snack while perusing the menu. Or get
Not Your Typical Fish (Skin) & Chips ($9, inset) - crisp fish skin and chips with a tangy dipping sauce.
TPS Grilled King Prawns ($26), in the restaurant's signature Kimchi-Miso Butter, boasts sweet and firm prawns, but the miso flavour is elusive. What comes through is the kimchi, not necessarily a bad thing.
My favourite dish is, ironically, not a seafood one. The Sriracha Honey Lime Chicken Leg ($24) is beautifully burnished with the hot, tangy and sweet glaze and grilled perfectly. The acidity from the crunchy, lightly pickled pile of bok choy is a good foil for the rich meat.
Where: The Prawn Star, 21 Duxton Hill MRT: Outram Park
Open: Noon - 2.30pm (Mon - Fri), 6 - 10.30pm (Mon - Thu), 6pm till late (Fri & Sat), closed on Sun
SPICY, SPRINGY THAI NOODLES
Might more street food from Bangkok be making its way here? I wrote recently about Soi 19 Thai Wanton Mee in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5
and, now, there is BaaMee Bangkok in Syed Alwi Road.
I prefer the soup and fried wontons at Soi 19, but BaaMee is worth a visit, mainly for its Tom Yam BaaMee Dry ($5). The attraction is the chilli, garlic and shallot topping. It looks innocent, but will clear clogged sinuses in a jiffy. There must be more in the mix. Lemongrass perhaps?
Toss it all thoroughly with the springy noodles and every burning mouthful is equal parts pleasure and pain. There are crisp cubes of lard too, which add to the attraction. The fried wonton and dry slices of char siew are unremarkable, although the wontons in the too- peppery soup are not bad.
Fans of Thai braised pig trotters might want to order the Kaa Moo ($6 for small). The thin gravy is sweet like versions found in Thailand, but the little pile of juicy salted vegetables helps mitigate that a bit.
Where: BaaMee Bangkok, 45 Syed Alwi Road
MRT: Farrer Park Tel: 9636-0048
Open: 11am - 9pm daily
This article was first published on Jan 9, 2015.
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