Best and worst 2016: New restaurants and dishes

PHOTO: VLV

BEST RESTAURANTS

VLV

01-02 Merchant's Court, 3A River Valley Road, tel: 6661-0197; open: noon to 3pm, 6 to 11pm daily

VLV is not your usual Chinese restaurant. For one thing, its name does not mean anything. For another, the dining room is shrouded in darkness in the evening - except for isolated lights trained on tabletops for Instagram photo-taking. And the music is lounge, not Chinese muzak. The food by chef Martin Foo, however, is authentically Chinese and very good.

Read also: Review of VLV

Family restaurant this certainly is not - shrieking kids running around have no place here and I would not suggest you make your grandparents negotiate the dimly lit staircase. But the executive crowd can dine here, safe in the knowledge that they are not charged inflated prices for pretentious cooking. If you do not order live seafood, you can keep your food bill at under $100 a person.

Singapore's best and worst new restaurants and dishes of 2016

  • ST Food critic Wong Ah Yoke names 2016's top three new restaurants and dishes as well as the year's worst.
  • VLV is not your usual Chinese restaurant. For one thing, its name does not mean anything. For another, the dining room is shrouded in darkness in the evening - except for isolated lights trained on tabletops for Instagram photo-taking. And the music is lounge, not Chinese muzak.
  • The food by chef Martin Foo, however, is authentically Chinese and very good.
  • Family restaurant this certainly is not - shrieking kids running around have no place here and I would not suggest you make your grandparents negotiate the dimly lit staircase.
  • But the executive crowd can dine here, safe in the knowledge that they are not charged inflated prices for pretentious cooking. If you do not order live seafood, you can keep your food bill at under $100 a person.
  • The Kagoshima Kurobuta "Char Siew" is the star dish. It tastes of honey, but is not cloying; it is charred, but not burnt; and it is succulent, but not soft or overly fat.
  • Chef Sam Chablani's grilled dishes come with bold flavours from spices that do not overpower or set the palate on fire.
  • The cooking is basic - everything from meat to seafood to vegetables goes on the charcoal grill - but the food is not run-of-the-mill.
  • The Spicy Iberico Pork Sataytay, for example, is not only whimsically named, but also comes in generous chunks that are so tasty that they do not need a gravy.
  • The restaurant offers good value too. For example, the Spicy BBQ Full Rack Pork Ribs - with enough meat for two - is priced at a decent $28.
  • Dessert chef Pang Ji Shuang cannot be more different from Chablani in philosophy, as he employs modern techniques involving liquid nitrogen and foams. But the contrast provides welcome surprises that refresh the palate at the end of the meal.
  • The first Teochew Paradise Restaurant opened last year at the Chinese Swimming Club, but the second outlet - opened in July this year at Scotts Square - takes the brand to new heights.
  • The cooking is more refined and the service more attentive.
  • The piece de resistance is the Braised Sliced Duck.
  • Unlike the Malaysian ducks used by many other restaurants here - which tend to be a bit coarse - this is smooth and juicy, with the meat oiled by a layer of aromatic fat.
  • Teochew Style Roasted Suckling Pig is another masterpiece. Unlike the Cantonese, the Teochews eat not just the crackling, but also the meat. The meat not only adds more layers of flavour, but also balances the grease in the skin.
  • The smell of the stale fish is still fresh in my memory, half a year after I encountered the Assam Pedas Fish at The Peranakan. As expected from the stink, the fish tasted so foul that after my friend and I had a small bite each, the dish was untouched. And the waiter who removed it did not think of asking us why.
  • That was not the only bad dish. The chap chye was so undercooked that the cabbage was crunchy.
  • And the pig trotter in the babi pongteh? The pig could certainly do with a good wash because, well, the meat had a pong too.
  • This has been a year of spectacular-looking food, but not all of them have passed the taste test. However, The Malayan Council, a halal restaurant in Dunlop Street, has got everything right with its Roti Kirai Beef Ribs.
  • With eels this fresh, it seems a shame to have it kabayaki-style, where the fillets are dipped in a sweet soya-based sauce before being grilled.

    Order it shirayaki-style, grilled without sauce. At Man Man, the eel is sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt. Without the distraction of sauce, the springy texture of the unagi and its freshness all come to the fore.

  • It is a deceptively simple dish - a thin layer of egg noodles pan-fried until crisp, with caster sugar and black vinegar on the side to sprinkle on the noodles. The crunch of the noodles, the light sweetness and the mellow vinegar all make for a mighty magnificent mouthful.
  • The Malaysian chain, which opened its first Singapore restaurant at The Centrepoint, is known for its herbal soups. The photographs on the menu look enticing, but none of the soups I ordered live up to those pictures.

The Kagoshima Kurobuta "Char Siew" is the star dish. It tastes of honey, but is not cloying; it is charred, but not burnt; and it is succulent, but not soft or overly fat.

If you prefer something with a lighter taste, the Sri Lankan crab steamed with hua diao wine and egg is lovely. The aroma of the Chinese rice wine is the perfect complement for the sweet crabmeat.

FAT LULU'S

297 River Valley Road, tel: 9236-5002; open: 6 to 11pm (Sundays, Tuesdays to Thursdays), 6pm to late (Fridays and Saturdays), 11am to 4pm (brunch on Saturdays and Sundays), closed on Mondays

Fat Lulu's is not just one of the best new restaurants in Singapore. It is, for me, just one of the best - period. It is rare to enjoy almost everything that comes out of a kitchen but I do here.

Chef Sam Chablani's grilled dishes come with bold flavours from spices that do not overpower or set the palate on fire.

The cooking is basic - everything from meat to seafood to vegetables goes on the charcoal grill - but the food is not run-of-the-mill. The Spicy Iberico Pork Sataytay, for example, is not only whimsically named, but also comes in generous chunks that are so tasty that they do not need a gravy.

The restaurant offers good value too. For example, the Spicy BBQ Full Rack Pork Ribs - with enough meat for two - is priced at a decent $28.

Dessert chef Pang Ji Shuang cannot be more different from Chablani in philosophy, as he employs modern techniques involving liquid nitrogen and foams. But the contrast provides welcome surprises that refresh the palate at the end of the meal.

Two brilliant chefs in one meal. There are not many places you find that without having to pay a bomb.

Dishes at Fat Lulu's

  • Fat Lulu's 'Duh meat board' - perfectly seasoned, bouncy slices of grilled Mangalica pork with strips of skirt steak.
  • Burrata and tomato salad.
  • King crab leg grilled with butter and lemon.
  • Pan-fried beef tongue.
  • Warm banana bread, an intense, sticky banana cake topped with coconut ice cream and sitting in a rich pond of chocolate sauce and rice krispies.

PARADISE TEOCHEW RESTAURANT

03-04 Scotts Square, 6 Scotts Road, tel: 6538-0644; open: 11.30am to 3pm (Mondays to Fridays), 10.30am to 3.30pm (Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays), 6 to 10.30pm daily

The first Teochew Paradise Restaurant opened last year at the Chinese Swimming Club, but the second outlet - opened in July this year at Scotts Square - takes the brand to new heights. The cooking is more refined and the service more attentive.

The piece de resistance is the Braised Sliced Duck. Using Irish duck, the chef has come up with the best version of this traditional Teochew dish I have eaten.

Unlike the Malaysian ducks used by many other restaurants here - which tend to be a bit coarse - this is smooth and juicy, with the meat oiled by a layer of aromatic fat.

Teochew Style Roasted Suckling Pig is another masterpiece. Unlike the Cantonese, the Teochews eat not just the crackling, but also the meat. This is what I prefer too, as the meat not only adds more layers of flavour, but also balances the grease in the skin.

And at $178 a pig, this is cheaper than what you pay at other Chinese restaurants in Orchard Road.

WORST RESTAURANT

THE PERANAKAN

Level 2 Claymore Connect, 442 Orchard Road, tel: 6262-4428; open: 11am to 10pm daily

The smell of the stale fish is still fresh in my memory, half a year after I encountered the Assam Pedas Fish at The Peranakan. As expected from the stink, the fish tasted so foul that after my friend and I had a small bite each, the dish was untouched. And the waiter who removed it did not think of asking us why.

That was not the only bad dish. The chap chye was so undercooked that the cabbage was crunchy.

And the pig trotter in the babi pongteh?

The pig could certainly do with a good wash because, well, the meat had a pong too.

BEST DISHES

ROTI KIRAI BEEF RIBS

The Malayan Council, 22 Dunlop Street, tel: 9002-4414; open: 11.30am to 11pm (weekdays), 11am to 11pm (weekends)

As if turning out good food is not enough, chefs now have to make sure their plates are Instagram-worthy too.

This has been a year of spectacular-looking food, but not all of them have passed the taste test. However, The Malayan Council, a halal restaurant in Dunlop Street, has got everything right with its Roti Kirai Beef Ribs.

Picture-perfect? For sure. The big, bone-in rib, with two lacy pancakes folded neatly into triangles leaning on it, looks instantly appetising and not just to caveman types.

Taste perfect? Definitely. The rendang-like gravy, nuanced and perfectly spiced, makes me go back again and again with my spoon, to try and figure out what is in it.

Of course, I also mop it up with the roti kirai, which is roti jala by another name. All of that complexity is thoroughly infused into the beef too, which falls away from the bone with no resistance. It is a substantial portion that is good for two. But one bite and I find it difficult to share.

SHIRAYAKI UNAGI

Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant, 01-01, 1 Keong Saik Road; tel: 6222-0678; open: 11.30am to 3pm, 6 to 10.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays and public holidays

It has been a long time coming, but finally, Singapore has a restaurant that serves just eel.

The unagi or freshwater eels at Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant are live too, which is what makes this restaurant worth repeated visits.

With eels this fresh, it seems a shame to have it kabayaki-style, where the fillets are dipped in a sweet soya-based sauce before being grilled.

Order it shirayaki-style, grilled without sauce. At Man Man, the eel is sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt.

Without the distraction of sauce, the springy texture of the unagi and its freshness all come to the fore.

CRISPY SWEET AND SOUR NOODLE IN TEOCHEW STYLE

Paradise Teochew Restaurant, 03-04 Scotts Square, 6 Scotts Road, tel: 6538-0644; open: 11.30am to 3pm (Mondays to Fridays), 10.30am to 3.30pm (Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays), 6 to 10.30pm daily

Restrained is not a word I would use to describe myself, but that is what I have to be when dining at Paradise Teochew at Scotts Square.

I pick at the braised Irish duck with the lovely layer of fat under the skin. I serve generous portions of steamed pomfret to dining companions. I have one wedge, maybe two, of the crisp oyster omelette.

But when Crispy Sweet And Sour Noodle In Teochew Style arrives at the end of the meal, I pounce.

It is a deceptively simple dish - a thin layer of egg noodles pan-fried until crisp, with caster sugar and black vinegar on the side to sprinkle on the noodles.

It has been perfectly done every time I have had it - crisp all the way through, with a hint of smokiness. There is no space in between for sog to set in.

The crunch of the noodles, the light sweetness and the mellow vinegar all make for a mighty magnificent mouthful.

WORST DISH

AMERICAN GINSENG SOUP WITH BLACK CHICKEN

Souper Tang, 02-52 The Centrepoint, 176 Orchard Road, tel: 6737-6772; open: 11.30am to 10pm daily

It says something that I ate at Souper Tang in June and still remember it months later - with a shudder.

The Malaysian chain, which opened its first Singapore restaurant at The Centrepoint, is known for its herbal soups. The photographs on the menu look enticing, but none of the soups I ordered live up to those pictures.

Tian Qi Nourishing Soup, which should have the distinctive taste of the herb, does not taste of it at all. Ning Shen Remedying Soup is similarly lacklustre. I strain to find any ginseng flavour in American Ginseng Soup With Black Chicken. Like the other soups, all I taste is salt.

There are better-tasting herbal soups to be had in hawker centres and foodcourts.


This article was first published on Dec 18, 2016.
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