I am always appreciative of people who cook, and on a lazy Saturday, headed to a friend's place for a popiah party.
Talk about industrious. It was an open house and I do not want to think of how he sliced all that yambean for the filling. Slicing and dicing is very calming and soothing for me, but 1kg of yambean is about as much as I am willing to work on.
Sipping yuzu-flavoured sake, we rolled fat spring rolls and topped them with prawns, ribbons of omelette and crushed peanuts.
Catching up with friends over food, talking about our travel plans, what a wonderful way to spend the weekend.
Slices of raw beef as a starter at Yakiniquest. Photo: ST, Tan Hsuen Yun
Not to sound churlish or anything but I think of the restaurants at Boat Quay as being touristy. It does not help that you have to walk past touts holding menus along the restaurant and bar-crammed stretch of the Singapore River.
So when a friend suggests dinner at Yakiniquest (48 Boat Quay, tel: 6223-4129), I agree reluctantly.
I should trust my friends more, I think. Our meal at the restaurant turns out to be great.
It serves beef from all over Japan and on the current menu are cuts from Kagoshima and Miyazaki.
To sample them, I have the $120 Omakase set. It comes with appetisers, three rounds of grilled beef, a "closer dish" as the restaurant calls it, and dessert.
Slices of raw beef to start are great and I especially love the beef "somen", meat cut to resemble the Japanese noodles. The natural sweetness of the meat comes out in both.
The grilled beef is just as good, and my favourite is yakisuki, a mash up of yakiniku and sukiyaki. Thin slices of striploin are grilled quickly so some parts are still raw, and dipped into beaten raw egg. The aroma and silkiness of the beef are just awesome.
Two filets of steamed Barramundi steamed and topped with coriander, spring onion and chilli from The Naked Finn. Photo: ST, Tan Hsuen Yun
I find myself writing incessantly about comfort food because after too many high-concept or haute cuisine meals, that is what I seek.
But can there be comfort restaurants? Yes, I think so. These are places I think of instinctively when trying to decide where to eat, places I know I can count on for good food and good service.
One of my comfort restaurants is The Naked Finn (39 Malan Road, Gillman Barracks, tel: 6694-0807), which serves food that is an effective antidote to rich meals.
Seafood dominates the menu and nothing much is done to them, so you really enjoy their natural goodness.
My current favourite is Steamed Barramundi ($35), two filets from the tail end of the fish steamed and topped with coriander, spring onion and chilli. It looks terribly plain but what a delight it is to eat. The fish has that sticky texture of good steamed fish and one of these days, I will ask for a bowl of rice to go with it.
Another good dish to order is grilled tiger prawns with salted egg yolk dip ($30). The firm prawns arrive smelling very appetising from their brief time on the plancha, and the dip is much better than when I first tasted it. It is not overly sweet now. What the restaurant needs to do is to infuse it with a stronger curry leaf flavour.
Grass jelly and soya beancurd, topped with pudding, matcha balls and mini sweet potato balls from BlackBall. Photo: ST, Tan Hsuen Yun
Every time I am in Plaza Singapura, I head to BlackBall (06-11/12 Plaza Singapura, tel: 6884-8449) to do a dessert takeaway.
I cannot resist the Taiwanese dessert chain's tempting offerings.
My regular order ($5.70) is a cold mix of grass jelly and soya beancurd, topped with pudding, matcha balls and mini sweet potato balls. I am also partial to its honeyed yam and red bean toppings.
There is always a queue and the air-conditioning is woefully inadequate, so I never eat there. I find it is better to take it home and stick it in the fridge for as long as I can bear before eating.
Whatever combination I pick, the resulting dessert is never overwhelmingly sweet. In fact, sometimes, it is barely sweet at all. And I love the contrasting textures of wobbly pudding and chewy balls.
There is a tiny tub of milk to pour over the lot and while making like a couch potato, I wolf it all down with no regrets.
DABBOUS IN SINGAPORE
Ollie Dabbous' dumplings poached in truffle cream topped with shavings of black truffle. Photo: ST, Tan Hsuen Yun
Scrappy Ollie Dabbous (say da-BOO) is among the bright, young British chefs that are changing London's culinary scene but his restaurant is well nigh impossible to book.
So when it was announced that he would be at the annual 4xFOUR pop up, I jumped at the chance to eat his food.
The pop up was at The White Rabbit restaurant in Harding Road and guests were greeted with a goblet of gin and tonic, with a cucumber and rose petal garnish, when they got there. It was a very welcome welcome, if you know what I mean.
Half a braised fennel with lemon balm, olive oil and fennel pollen starts the meal on a high note. In another course, I marvel at how the charred broccoli with rapeseed dressing manages to be smoky but not bitter. Later, the chef explains that the black bits coating the vegetables are a powder made with breadcrumbs and other aromatics, which are smoked. That explains it. What a clever dish.
Dumplings poached in truffle cream arrive topped with shavings of black truffle. It is comforting on a cool night.
There were some misses though. The main course of duck was sinewy and tough, and a dessert of milk pie with chamomile is far too sweet.
I cannot wait to taste the chef's food in his own restaurant. Fingers crossed that I score a reservation.
This article was first published on November 20, 2015.
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