Locally Good!

Locally Good!

Singapore's local good food!
Xing Wei Chua
Xing Wei Chua

Another day, another plate of Nasi Lemak — Downstairs had recently shifted from their former premises at Changi Business Park to Suntec City; still occupying a space in the basement of the mall and holding true to its name, the move is also something I am pretty glad considering I have had always wanted to try them out, but their limited operating hours and location were a little out of the way for me.

Still carrying their void deck theme, the place is decked with a familiar stone chess table and letter boxes that one usually will be able to find in HDB void decks of the past. Offering local eats such as Nasi Lemak, Wanton Mee, Chicken Chop Hor Fun and more, we went for the Har Jeong Gai Nasi Lemak — a slight twist to the local Nasi Lemak which sees three Har Jeong Gai (Prawn Paste Chicken) drumlets served with omelette, fishcake and sambal. Despite looking quite sparse and lacking Ikan Bilis and peanuts, their rendition of the Nasi Lemak was actually pretty respectable — the use of Jasmine Rice for this rendition steers away from the other Nasi Lemak that we have had recently, which comes served with basmati rice instead. That being said, the rice comes immensely fragrant — seemingly powered more by Pandan leaves with a slight whiff of ginger in its finishing notes. The Har Jeong Gai was decent as well; sufficiently crisp on the outside, yet carrying a hint of umami-ness with the juicy flesh within. The other elements such as the egg omelette felt rather pedestrian, though the fish cake does come with a crisp exterior; the sambal chili carrying a hint of sweetness whilst being mildly spicy — suitable for those who have lower tolerance of spiciness, whilst coming with Ikan Bilis for a soft crunch.

Glad that Downstairs had finally relocated to somewhere more convenient — makes for a good option for local fare with an ambience; the food was of a pretty good quality for its price with all items coming below $10 (most being in the range of $6 to $7). Given how I find myself in this area more often than not, this is likely a spot I would find myself dining at for those random days which I am not sure what to have around this part of town.

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Hadn’t really been this enthusiastic about Tenderbest group’s concepts in the past, but my recent visits to Tenderbest Makcik Kitchen at [email protected] had me fairly impressed — and that’s how I found myself heading down to Kedai Kopi when they had announced the opening of the coffeeshop concept.

With many tenants located under one roof in this Muslim-friendly concept, we ended up ordering from a few stalls such as Mee Bagus (i.e. the Muslim-friendly alter ego of Gimee Face 爱面子 that has stalls in Hougang and Ang Mo Kio), Mr Teh Tarik Express and Joy Satay. This item came from the menu of 380 Nasi Lemak — a stall that is seen as a revival of Nasi Coco which was previously situated at NeWest, and is aligned with the same Muslim-friendly theme of the coffeeshop. While the other elements were actually pretty well-executed here, the main star or the show here seemed to have fell a bit short — the XXL Crispy Chicken Leg seem to have lost most of its juiciness from being pre-fried and displayed at the counter for an extended period of time; the batter being a tad limp, though retaining much of the crunch, but the flesh being rather tough and dry. Otherwise, the other elements are pretty commendable — the basmati rice came infused with an evidently aromatic coconut-y fragrance with the grains being pretty fluffy, and the sambal being a nice mix of sweet-savoury and carrying a moderate punch of spiciness that most folks should find easy to handle. The Ikan Bilis also remained crunchy, while the sunny-side-up comes with somewhat of a runny egg yolk.

While this item from 380 Nasi Lemak does come with hits and misses and definitely has some room for improvement, Kedai Kopi is certainly a spot that remains as an appealing option to dine at if in the area for both Muslims and Non-Muslims. Of particular mention, we found the Seafood Laksa from Mee Bagus to be delicious — sufficiently “lemak” with an evident hint of flavours from the rempah spices, and coming with hum, fish cake, and prawns. Crowds seem to be a little crazy given the press coverage on this place lately though — you have been warned!

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Visited Tun Xiang 豚香南洋馆after coming across the place on social media recently; a new F&B establishment which had recently opened its doors within Bedok Mall, taking over the former premises of the now-defunct Streats outlet there. The establishment focuses on serving up roast meats with the use of Iberico Pork, whilst also serving up a variety of sides featuring the same; beverage options are very much limited to local drinks such as Nanyang Coffee/Milk Tea, Milo, Barley, Luo Han Guo, soft drinks etc.

Wanting to try the best of both worlds, my choice of main was the Signature Iberico Pork Belly Char Siew + Roasted Chestnut Pork Noodle; the same is also available being served with rice at the same price, and also available in two sized — Medium or Large, which I went for the former. Unlike the typical roast meat noodles around, the noodles here; whilst being the standard mee kia often found elsewhere, comes swimming in a dark sauce that is similar to that of Lor Mee — gloopy and dense. Not sure why they had decided to go for such a direction here, considering the noodles does become soggy given the heaviness of the sauce, whilst also not helping with the general feel of the dish considering its heavy notes of savouriness, though it does seem to mask quite a fair bit of the alkaline taste of the noodles and slightly more bearable when one mixes the sous-vide egg in. Otherwise, the meats were pretty decent; the Signature Iberico Pork Belly Char Siew and the Roast Chestnut Pork being both reasonable tender, not too dry and came void of any undesirable porky stench; the former being drenched in a sweet sauce for flavour and a good mix of fatty and lean parts to provide sufficient bite, whilst the latter came evidently savoury from the spice rub with fatty parts that carried a good bite, and a crackling layer of crispy skin over the top. Felt that the noodles could also come with some bak choy to strike a more wholesome balance, whilst also giving a textural contrast with its crunch that may make the dish slightly easier to finish.

Being an establishment which focuses on Iberico Pork, it seems that Tun Xiang 豚香南洋馆 has given the meat justice — the roast meats are actually of a rather decent quality and does seem like a fair attempt on putting a hipster touch on the typical roast meat that is usually found in coffee shops, food courts and hawker centres. That being said, there is certainly some room for improvement, and there are some things that do not seem to gel too well together here in the finer details — still a pretty decent option to go for within the mall, and somewhere that roast meat lovers should check out if they are into alternative variants of the classic dish for the experience.

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Previously located at Hong Lim Food Centre, Beng Who Cooks needs no introduction — serving up their “atas cai png” within the food centre, they are also known for starting Beng Who Cares Foundation; an initiative that provides free meals for those who are in need during the “Circuit Breaker”. They have since moved out of their premises at Hong Lim Food Centre, and is now situated at Neil Road just a few doors down from Epiphyte. Serving up different menus for lunch and dinner service, the lunch menu carries rice bowl and salad bowls being served, whilst offering a good variety of tea and alcohol for beverage options; dinner would see a degustation menu being served — a daring shift away from what they were previously known for, apart from serving the same dishes from the said menu in ala-carte format.

Was torn between posting up this item and the Bak Chor Rice — both were actually really solid items that I would really crave for and return back here in the future. That being said, the Beng’s Prawn Paste Chicken deserves the mention more solely because of how they were previously known for their grain bowls at Hong Lim, and the serving of such a side is already a departure from what they were back then. The Beng’s Prawn Paste Chicken is essentially what it is; chicken mid-joints that are marinated in prawn paste with a crispy deep-fried batter; no-nonsense here, just good fried chicken with a shattering crisp fried batter on the outside that is also surprisingly light, while the meat comes all juicy, tender and succulent with the umami flavour coming from the marination — all coming with a chili dip that is akin to that zippy Hainanese Chicken Rice chili with a hint of Chinchalok that gives those weeks an extra flavour boost that also tingles the taste buds; pretty well-suited for those who are tolerable to moderate levels of spiciness.

I have not been to Beng Who Cooks while they are at Hong Lim Complex nor have known them personally, but from the stories of them on social media I would say that they certainly have came a long way; earnest folks who are making a living in the F&B industry, living through the grind with passion and the drive — all that whilst not forgetting about the society. Kudos to them and the other folks in the F&B who takes pride in feeding the community; its something we should appreciate as consumers. Wishing these folks here all the best in what is to come for them!

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Yet another establishment that should not be a stranger to most, but they had since opened their very first standalone establishment rather recently at Capitol Piazza just right beside Punggol Nasi Lemak, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Food Republic that one of their stalls used to operate from.

Was pretty tempted to grab one of their newly-introduced rice bowls offered here, but found myself still going back to the Guan’s Mee Pok instead; after all, that was what I was craving for and having something apart from the Mee Pok is probably missing the point. I have only had Guan’s Mee Pok once in the Food Junction @ NEX a couple of years back, but I found the Mee Pok here to hold up very well against what I could recall. Spring noodles that comes with a bite, tossed in an extra vinegary and spicy chili if one decides to opt for both options (I wouldn’t dare to imagine their variant without both) — sends a punch to the taste buds while the other condiments play a side role here; make no mistake though considering the variety of condiments here which includes their traditional roll, dumplings and a molten lava egg, which is already more extensive than that served at other establishments. The Flavour Roll here is essentially their rendition of the Ngoh Hiang roll; seems to carry a bit more of a fish paste with a rather smooth texture, and creates a bite somewhat close to fish cake without being quite as fishy. The same also applies for the dumpling, which came much as a surprise; wrapped with a silky smooth skin on the outside. Otherwise, the other elements such as the minced meat and lard laces together with the noodles for a meatier bite; the latter could have been a little more crispy, while the molten lava egg is set to please the crowd — not only a comforting addition that is reminiscent of the Japanese ramen, but also increases the aesthetic appeal of the dish.

Coming at $6.30 a bowl, one can argue that Guan’s Mee Pok is already a premium bowl by its own, especially considering how this is very much the most “basic” version here. Still, considering the condiments included, it’s something I would not mind having any day.

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Came across the new Hathaway at Dempsey Hill through social media fairly recently — a new casual dining concept which had opened its doors at Blk 13 Dempsey Road situated right at the corner of the building, aimed to “serve modern local and Asian cuisine influenced by Singapore’s local heritage and culture”.

Serving up two different menus for lunch and dinner service respectively, the Ah Nya’s Fish Curry is an item that appears on both their Daytime and Dinner menu. Using elements such as barramundi and fondant potatoes, it is also prepared using a heirloom recipe which is well loved by the founder’s Ah Ma — the dish being added to the menu to “preserve the deliciousness of the unique and delicate recipe”. The Ah Nya’s Fish Curry stands up well to the theme of Hathaway — a rendition of a dish that is familiar with locals and is pretty much one that is also deeply-tied with our nation’s culture and heritage. What we really enjoyed here was the curry — often at times curry tends to veer heavily on either the flavours of the spices, or towards a heavier texture which emphasises more on the creaminess from coconut milk; the version here feels like a good balance of the two which was immensely fragrant, but came with sufficient thickness as certain rendition of curries from other establishments can tend to feel watered down and lack the punchy notes of the spices. The curry itself was a great vehicle for the bread stick served on the side; a crisp toast with a somewhat chewy interior that one could use to mop up all that gravy — an absolutely joy to have considering the lack of rice for the variant served here. Otherwise, we also enjoyed how the barramundi came pretty plump, flaky and with its moisture locked in; a joy to have without being too dry nor mushy, whilst not carrying an undesirable muddy odour as well. The fondant potatoes adds a modern touch to the dish; shaped in cylinders, we loved how the potatoes came grilled slightly over the top for a nice bite, whilst being sufficiently soft and easy to eat.

Must say that Hathaway is a spot that seems to have quite a bit of potential despite the stiff competition of F&B establishments that are already in the Dempsey neighbourhood. The serene setting feels close to nature; very soothing and calming — all that with food that is close to the heart yet with a playful touch for a slight twist of modernity; somewhat of a surprise element. Hathaway is a spot that embraces heritage, yet celebrates that by polishing all of that in an approach that is both refreshing, and refined. A spot that is definitely worth giving a go for those who enjoys modern approaches to local cuisine — somewhere to consider for the occasional splurge, be it for dates, or just a simple gathering with few friends; a location which I would be most excited to revisit some day!

Opened by the same folks behind D’Good Cafe at Holland Village, Straits Place 1819 is their latest concept situated at VivoCity, occupying a space near Gram Cafe & Pancakes within the mall serving up modern interpretations of local favourites which range from all-day brunch items, to mains as well as pasta alongside a wide variety of beverages such as specialty coffee, tea, mocktails and cocktails etc.

Giving the local Char Kway Teow a modern twist, the Unagi & Salmon Kway Teow here is more than meets the eye; apart from the addition of unagi and cured salmon into the dish, the dish also sees some of the rice noodles being replaced by Shirataki Noodles (i.e. Konjac Noodles) for a slight twist. The Char Kway Teow here does come with a hint of sweetness from the dark soya sauce with a slight hint of savouriness from pork lard; the noodles not being too greasy though lacks wok hei (what were you expecting; it’s a cafe after all!), but still remains pretty slurpy overall especially for the Shirataki Noodles. The addition of unagi and cured salmon is pretty welcome for a modern interpretation of things, though does not seem to be a purposeful addition apart from trying to appeal to slightly more youthful audiences, and perhaps also to substantiate for the more premium price tag here as compared to the usual renditions readily available in food courts, coffeeshops and Hawker centres. Nonetheless, the Unagi comes sufficiently plump; a little scaly in certain parts but not too much to cause a concern, while the cured salmon came all savoury and flaky with a pinkish centre for a good texture — each slice also came at a pretty generous portion for a good bite, all that while the greens help to balance things out and give a slight crunch.

Heard about the controversies about the “Peranakan” aspect of the establishment before they had opened — but that did not quite change my interest on heading down to Lemak Boys to give their offerings a try; after all I am one who is usually all in for great Nasi Lemak despite being not too much of a rice person, but I would not say no to one that is well-executed with finesse and skill.

Given its price tag at $12.80, it’s difficult not to carry expectations even for the most basic version of the Nasi Lemak they have to offer here; after all, one would already be paying for a premium here against those served up at coffee shops and hawker centres. Coming with other condiments such as omelette, Otah, Fried Drumstick, Ikan Bilis, Peanuts and Sambal, it felt like it was lacking that artisan quality that the price tag seemed to have suggest — while the rice was sufficiently moist and did carry a light whiff of coconut aroma, it felt a tad too tame; easily overpowered by everything else on the plate. And then moving on to the condiments, while the Otah does remind me of the thick Muar Otahs which was something I appreciated, the Fried Chicken was served at room temperature; understandably so considering how most of the condiments have been prepared before-hand and placed on the counter only to be picked up and plated upon order, but I do have had crispier chicken drumsticks/wings from mom-and-pop Nasi Lemak specialty stalls, let alone an establishment that seems to suggest that they serve up artisanal Nasi Lemak — a shame considering I liked how it carried a light lemongrass fragrance and a slight hint of turmeric in its marination which was rather flavourful. Thought the omelette felt rather pedestrian; would have much preferred a sunny side-up though I am not quite sure if they are trying to stick to the Peranakan roots here, though thankfully the Ikan Bilis provided just enough crunch and saltish flavour for a good contrast with the other elements on the plate. The sambal provided a light kick of spiciness that should be manageable to most, though may be a little odd for those used to the sweet sambal more commonly found at other places.

Considering the hype built up for their Nasi Lemak, it felt like a mix of hits and misses — a little disappointing for an artisan establishment with a focus on Nasi Lemak. Don’t get it wrong; it’s pretty serviceable and a rather decent plate, though considering the likes of The Coconut Club or even Punggol Nasi Lemak’s more upscale concept at Capitol Piazza, I would have wished that they could have delivered more than it did at that price tag ...

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Think this is the reason why I should perhaps explore my own neighbourhood more often; wouldn’t have known that the fish soup stall near home at Viva Food Court at Vista Point that also serves up pretty legit Dry Ban Mee if not for the Circuit Breaker and Phase One re-opening where hawkers/food court stall owners are finding their way into social media and delivery apps to stay in operations with strict restrictions on dine-in in place.

Not one who is often seen eating Ban Mee; always too afraid of how filling it can get and that the noodles sometimes end up clumpy and all — this is one version that I had no problem finishing at all. Tossing the noodles with the sauce, the noodles are all slurpy and carried a good bite, coated with the savoury sauce that comes even better with chili opted for a slightly spicy kick that should work well for most with moderate (or even below moderate) tolerance for spiciness — what really caught me was the addition of caramalised onions which also helped to add a sweetness to the sauce, providing the bowl of noodles an additional dimension of flavour. Coming with other condiments such as crunchy greens, lumps of minced meat that is soft-to-the-bite and bouncy, as well crispy Ikan Bilis, I absolutely dig how this simple bowl of noodles felt pretty wholesome and well thought out especially with its emphasis on both texture and flavour. Definitely going for this again some day; quite glad that I have found yet another option that I would enjoy having pretty regularly especially given their proximity to me!

Having only opened their newest outlet a couple of days ago, pretty glad that Ah Lock Kitchen’s newest outlet is situated quite near to home this time. Located at the coffeeshop at Blk 573 Woodlands Drive 16 where Yes Nasi Kukus is also situated, Ah Lock Kitchen’s new outlet here now serves up muslim-friendly Hakka Tofu Bowls, replacing the pork elements with chicken instead. Whilst I find myself still needing to get used to the texture of the meatballs; more crusty and firm — a little less juicy that the pork ones that Ah Lock & Co. serves up at Tanjong Pagar Centre. Otherwise, the other elements including the tofu stuffed with meat feels pretty much the same; the sweet leaf provides much of the flavours of the greens here, while the beans provide the crunch — small cubes of tofu sits atop the rice as well, drenched with mayo for a slight savouriness and a creaminess that helps to bind all the elements together. Always preferred to have the Hakka Tofu Bowl with the Chili sauce being poured in — zippy and packing a punch in terms of spiciness; a great compliment to the entire bowl. Not exactly the same, but definitely good enough to get my Ah Lock cravings checked especially considering its location for me!

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Had read about Brother Cheng’s Chicken Rice recently, and decided to check it out — opened by the same folks behind Omakase Burger, Brother Cheng’s Chicken Rice is a new concept that serves up the local favourite Chicken Rice within Picnic at Wisma Atria, located just beside Omakase Burger.

This is the set for one, with a price tag of $14.90 before GST; a premium above the many iterations served at hawker centres, but still a version that stays pretty true to its roots and being quite authentic. Only offering poached chicken here, the chicken here is served boneless for easy eating; coming with a slightly yellowish skin, the skin is silken and gelatinous, while the flesh itself is pretty smooth and succulent — fairly tender, whilst being drenched in soya sauce for some flavour. My favourite element from this rendition is however the rice — for a person who usually skips his carbs, the rice comes all fluffy and savoury; very aromatic as it perfumes of an evident note of chicken stock and ginger, packing a punch of flavours whilst being sufficiently moist. It goes well with the Signature Chilli Sauce, which was a nice balance of spiciness and zippiness; not too heavy on the calamari, yet tickles the tastebuds with its heat which should be pretty manageable for those tolerable to moderate levels of spiciness. Felt the accompanying soup was pretty clean in flavour, though slightly bland if compared to others served at hawker centres — liked how it came with quite a generous portion of tofu however. The You Cai with Oyster Sauce is an optional add-on without any extra charge; blanched, leafy greens which is crunchy, whilst drenched in oyster sauce for a savoury note while the shallots provide a crunch and a contrasting savoury note. No doubt the prices here are steep for the type of cuisine it serves; a plate of chicken rice would cost perhaps lower of $5.00 in a hawker centre, but Brother Cheng’s Chicken Rice is very much worth the experience especially for those who do not mind the price tag, which is still pretty accessible to most — one of the better ones around that we might return for in the future!

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Shiitake Mushroom, Pickled Radish, Lava Egg, Ginger Flower. From Slate; a new establishment at Purvis Street which operates as a Aussie-style cafe in the day, and a contemporary tapas-style restaurant in the evening.

An item that is more Asian-inspired than Aussie-style, the Braised Pork Belly is an item off their brunch menu — more of a stew than being braised, the braised sauce carries a savoury note lighter in flavour as compared to the dark and rich sauce typically served up in Chinese renditions of such a dish. Coming with chunks of pork belly and mushrooms, we felt that the portion of mushrooms seem to be more generous than that of the pork belly; no doubt the pork belly was all juicy, succulent and melt-in-the-mouth (though sometimes carrying bits of cartilage), but we felt that it could do with a better ratio of pork to mushroom given how the pork should have been the highlight of the dish. Otherwise, the mushroom does provide a good contrast in terms of texture to the pork belly, while the coriander helps to cut through the savourines; the molten lava egg features a runny yolk and a soft egg white that is a crowd-pleaser. Comes served with a well-portioned bowl of rice on the side, we liked how the rice was just enough to go around the entire serving of Braised Pork Belly and was not too excessive, while the item also comes with sambal and green Chili on the side. A pretty decent item, though perhaps one of the dishes that lacks the Aussie-style influence we were expecting from their concept — still a good dish nonetheless.

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Up, down and everywhere around for food.

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