A last cup of kopi-o at Blk 398 Canteen

1 05 2013

It is always nice to drop in on a place that is reminiscent of a world we can no longer see such as the Blk 398 Canteen. Operating on the grounds of the former Seletar Camp since 1969, it was for long insulated against the winds of change which seem to sweep across much of the island of Singapore  over the four decades that have passed. Said to be one of the last “kampong kopitiam” (village coffee shop) in Singapore, it maybe is less of the kampong kopitiam many of us might wish that it is, seemingly more like a world caught in transition, but one certainly in which time does seem to have long stood still.

Having a cup of kopi-o at the Blk 398 Canteen takes one back in time.

Having a cup of kopi-o at the Blk 398 Canteen takes one back in time.

The canteen sign painted on a corrugated zinc sheet exterior wall.

The canteen sign painted on a corrugated zinc sheet exterior wall.

The canteen takes its name from its address at 398 Piccadilly. The address is itself a throwback to to days now long forgotten when the area was part of the Royal Air Force’s RAF Seletar. Completed in 1928, the former air station and its grounds was for a long while after the 1971 British pullout, well preserved – an area rich in charm, the eastern side of the former air station was used to house several Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) military units, while some 378 colonial houses on its western side were turned over for civilian use. It was in the transition that the canteen commenced operations serving first the RAF personnel before their pullout and the SAF personnel after that.

The outside of Blk 398 Canteen

The outside of Blk 398 Canteen.

A customer entering the canteen.

A customer entering the canteen.

The inside of Blk 398 Canteen.

The inside of Blk 398 Canteen.

The area the canteen is in is now undergoing yet another transition, one which will see the biggest transformation of the area since work commenced on RAF Seletar in the 1920s. The transformation will see the Jurong Town Corporation’s (JTC) Seletar Aerospace Park built over much of the area which the former RAF Seletar occupied and will see some 174 of the “black and white” houses – former homes of RAF personnel which provided the area with much of its charm, demolished. This transition is also one which will also see the 44 year old canteen go (it was supposed to have been closed last December) and with it one of the last chances to have that cup of kopi-o in Singapore today, as it might have been yesterday.

Houses left behind by the RAF provided the area with much of its previous charm.

Houses left behind by the RAF provided the area with much of its previous charm.

Another view of the inside.

Another view of the inside.

Concertina wire - a reminder of the former military site on the fence of the canteen.

Concertina wire – a reminder of the former military site on the fence of the canteen.


Brunch with a zebra

11 04 2013

It was probably a little too early for that glass Sangria I had late on a Saturday morning. Especially so, when I had a zebra, and if that wasn’t enough, a few horses thrown in as well, for company. I am quite sure, of course, that the horses and lone zebra that accompanied the deliciously refreshing beverage wasn’t the result of sangria induced hallucinations. The animals – wall-mounted ornaments in the form of the heads of them, meant perhaps to turn heads, were all part of the décor at the restaurant I was seated at, Sabio by the Sea, for a tasting session of the restaurant’s Weekend Brunch menu.

A reward from having brunch with a zebra.

A reward from having brunch with a zebra.

The restaurant's resident zebra,and some of its horses.

The restaurant’s resident zebra,and some of its horses.

A generous dose of Sangria, from a choice of either white or red accompanied our brunch.

A generous dose of Sangria, from a choice of either white or red accompanied our brunch.

The second of a pair of Sabio’s, Sabio by the Sea follows on the success of the Deliciae Hospitality Management group’s Sabio on Duxton Hill, and is the group’s 8th restaurant concept. In its curious décor are the flavours of the original Sabio, a cozy tavern from 19th Century Seville and elements of the sea, all infused with a somewhat whimsical touch – a reflection perhaps of the selection of flavours on its menu.

The flavourful décor inside Sabio by the Sea.

The flavourful décor inside Sabio by the Sea.

The highlight on its menu is the meat and seafood selection, grilled using charcoal ovens which have been flown-in specially from Spain – the creations of Deliciae’s Group Executive Chef Damien Le Bihan, who hails from Brittany on the wild western coast of France. The menu also offers a varied choice and includes a wide selection of hot and cold tapas; jamon (Serrano, Iberico and Iberico Bellota) and chorizo (pork sausages); paella as well as a choice of white or red Sangria, which we are told have been perfected by Sabio.

Deliciae’s Group Executive Chef Damien Le Bihan (R) posing with Bruno Menard (L) the first Singapore based Michelin Star Chef who dropped by to say hi.

Deliciae’s Group Executive Chef Damien Le Bihan (R) posing with Bruno Menard (L) the first Singapore based Michelin Star Chef who dropped by to say hi.

A charcoal oven specially imported from Spain.

A charcoal oven specially imported from Spain.

Popular items on the menu include the Esparrago (Grilled Asparagus, Serano Ham, soft Egg, Paprika & Sherry Vinaigrette), Navajas (Razor clams with chorizo and garlic sauce), El Pulpo (Grilled Octopus leg, “Viola” Mash Potato, Sauce Paprika) and La Carne (Grilled Ribeye, Cheese Sauce, Grilled Pimentos). Another very popular choice, is the restaurant’s Weekend Brunch Menu, which allows a quick introduction to the tastes on offer, for which I and a bunch of others others were there to try.

The restaurant's brunch menu.

The restaurant’s brunch menu.

Brunch starts with the El Sabio Basket with small baguette, a mini-croissant, and a mini pain au chocolat served with strawberry jam, butter, orange juice and a delighfully light yoghurt with berries. Not actually made by the restuarant, the basket contains the best bread and pastries I have come across in Singapore and is a wonderful way to put you in the right mood for brunch.

A wonderfully delicious bread basket to start off brunch.

A wonderful bread basket to start off brunch.

The bread basket was accompanied by a glass of yogurt.

The bread basket was accompanied by a glass of yoghurt with berries.

What was to follow was a feast for the senses as the restaurant served up a variety not just of what was on its brunch menu, but also some of its signature dishes which wasn’t just pleasing to the taste-buds, but also a visual and aromatic feast! It all came fast and furious: Chachouka, Grilled Ribeye, Olive Bread with Serrano Ham, a fluffy Omelette, Prok Shoulder, and an Octopus leg – pleasures out of the charcoal oven. It is hard to play favourites with all of that but if I were to choose, it would be the succulent ribeye and pork both well marinated, slow grilled and bursting with taste. I did also enjoy the Octopus leg – as I always do, especially when it is delicately grilled to perfection in the way it is done at Sabio. That interestingly is served with purple mashed potato.

Toasted Bread With Garlic, Roasted Baby Potatoes, Pan Fried Chorizo,Manchego Cheese, Soft Egg.

Chachouka – with Chorizo Sausage, Two Fried Eggs, Toasted Brioche And Green.

Grilled Ribeye (120g), Chachouka, Fried Egg And Grilled Mushrooms.

Grilled Ribeye (120g), Fried Egg And Grilled Mushrooms.

Grilled Olive Bread Stuff With Manchego Cheese And Serrano Ham, BabySpinach Salad.

Grilled Olive Bread Stuff With Manchego Cheese And Serrano Ham, Baby
Spinach Salad.

Fluffy Omelette, Roasted Potatoes , Manchego Cheese, Serrano Ham, Basil And Grilled Cherry Tomatoes.

Fluffy Omelette, Roasted Potatoes , Manchego Cheese, Serrano Ham, Basil and Grilled Cherry Tomatoes.

El Cerdo -Herbs Marinated Pig Shoulder Served With Sauteed Potatoes.

El Cerdo –
Herbs Marinated Pig Shoulder Served With Sauteed Potatoes.

El Pulpo -Grilled Octopus leg, “Viola” Mash Potato, Sauce Paprika.

El Pulpo –
Grilled Octopus leg, “Viola” Mash Potato, Sauce Paprika.

The inquisition of what’s on Sabio’s menu would not be complete without a taste of what has to be the items which are the most sinfully pleasurable. Even with a tummy full of what was previously served, we all had room for all of what came, including the House’s Signature Dessert, the especially sinful Pastel de Mantequilla Salada Carmelo Lava – Salty Butter Caramel Lava Cake which oozes not just with warm and sticky caramel, but which together with the ice-cream it was served brought pure pleasure with each mouthful.

Pastel de Mantequilla Salada Carmelo Lava -Salty Butter Caramel Lava Cake.

Pastel de Mantequilla Salada Carmelo Lava –
Salty Butter Caramel Lava Cake.

Also of note is the Piña Asada. That came in half the shell of the pineapple with golden caramelized cubes of its previous contents in it, served with a portion oh-so-heavenly vanilla ice-cream. The other dessert items which we got to savour also deserve an honourable mention. These are the Arroz con leche – Vanilla and white chocolate rice pudding, the Churros – which I must say have to the best tasting ones in town. That, if not also everything else, is certainly reason enough to make a visit my Sentosa Cove all worthwhile.

Piña asada - Roasted marinated pineapple served with vanilla ice cream.

Piña Asada – Roasted marinated pineapple served with vanilla ice cream.

Arroz con leche -Vanilla and white chocolate rice pudding.

Arroz con leche –
Vanilla and white chocolate rice pudding.

The best tasting Churros in town!

The best tasting Churros in town!

Sabio by the Sea offers dining both in the restaurant and al fresco and is located at Quayside Isle next to W Hotel at 31 Ocean Way #01-02 Singapore 098395. It is accessible by car as well as from the Beach Station in Sentosa (Sentosa Bus 3 to Sentosa Cove Arrival Plaza from Beach Station), which runs every 30 minutes from from 8 am to 10.30 pm daily. The restaurant is opened from 12 pm to 10 pm on Mondays to Thursdays, 12 pm to 12 am on Fridays, 10 am to 12 am on Saturdays and 10 am to 10 pm on Sundays. The restaurant can ne contacted at 6690 7568 or SBTS@sabio.sg. For more information on the restaurant and on the Deliciae group, do visit www.deliciae.sg.

Detail on the menu board.

Detail on the restaurant’s menu board.

Pairing with Martell on a high

28 03 2013

It is in a room with a view that I experienced what has to be one of my high points of the year. It wasn’t just that I was seated in a restaurant, which on the 62nd floor of One Raffles Place, is perched close to the top of what is one of the highest points over Singapore one can possibly get up to without boarding an aircraft, but also from the treat over lunch that was to follow.

Compliments of the Chef: a teaser before the pairing session, Cream of Youth, that we were told (jokingly), would take 10 years off our age (photo taken with LG Optimus G).

Compliments of the Chef: a teaser before the pairing session, Cream of Youth, that we were told (jokingly), would take 10 years off our age (photo taken with LG Optimus G).

Lunch, which was at the kind invitation of Martell and Stellar at 1Altitude, was a tasting session of a cognac pairing menu available exclusively at Stellar for the month of March (it has since been extended to Sunday 14 April 2013). The menu involves signature dishes on the Stellar menu, paired with cocktails made with Martell Cordon Bleu cognac as a primary base. After a quick introduction to the restaurant with a Cream of Youth, the tasting session proper commenced with the first pairing on the menu. This was the very rich Duck and Its Nest: Pan-fried foie gras in a semolina crust; duck rillettes and arfait; corn pancake and quince compote. To complement the foie gras, a cocktail with a balance of acidity (as a foil for rich foods), sweetness, aroma and texture, much as the classic accompaniment to foie gras, the full bodied white wine, Sauternes, is was required. The result is “Inside the Rocks”, a concoction with dry orange, molasses syrup and fresh parsley that is mixed with Cherry Brandy and Martell Cordon Bleu. Chilled inside a hollow ball of ice which is broken before it is served, the cocktail is indeed a delicate blend – the dry orange drawing out the notes on the cognac – a perfect accompaniment to the rich flavours of the foie gras and rillettes of duck.

Duck and Its Nest: Pan-fried foie gras in a semolina crust; duck rillettes and arfait; corn pancake and quince compote.

Duck and Its Nest: Pan-fried foie gras in a semolina crust; duck rillettes and arfait; corn pancake and quince compote.

Which is paired with "Inside The Rocks": a cocktail of dry orange, molasses sugar, herbs and Martell Cordon Bleu.

Which is paired with “Inside The Rocks”: a cocktail of dry orange, molasses sugar, herbs and Martell Cordon Bleu.

Next was a Classic Lobster Bisque, served with leek fondue and a seared scallop ravioli, paired with a champagne cocktail “Erlinda 1942”. The cocktail meant to bring out the feel of summer, brought out by the taste of lemons and herbs. Besides lemon juice and star anise, the very refreshing cocktail has also crème de cassis, rose Water, St. Germain liqueur, champagne, and Martell Cordon Bleu mixed into it, bringing out a zest which well complements the lobster bisque with a huge and very succlent piece of scallop in the ravioli.

Classic Lobster Bisque with a succulent piece of seared scallop in ravioli which is paired with "Erlinda 1942" a champagne cocktail with a taste of lemonsand a hint of herbs - mixed of course with some cognac.

Classic Lobster Bisque with a succulent piece of seared scallop in ravioli which is paired with “Erlinda 1942” a champagne cocktail with a taste of lemons and a hint of herbs – mixed of course with some cognac.

The highlight of the pairing menu seemed to saved for last, the last before the dessert that was to follow, that is. To accompany the very tender slow cooked (over a wood coal fire for four hours) Kobe C beef off the ribs, served with short rib hash, tarragon baby vegetables and morel sauce, was “1st and Last ”. While that certainly wasn’t the last cocktail to be served, I certainly would not have minded if it was. The deliciously penetrating and flavourful aroma brought out by the infusion of cardomom syrup and a cinnamon stick is certainly one that lingers and one which seems to melt into the tasty morsels of beef oozing with flavour from its cooking. The cocktail is one in which the spices come together with a Martell Cordon Bleu base and Zen green tea liqueur bringing out a “lemony and flowery” flavour,  “with note of camphor or eucalyptus due to cineole in the essential oil”.

Kobe C rib of beef, smoked and slow cooked over wood coals; short rib hash; tarragon baby vegetables and morel sauce.

Kobe C rib of beef, smoked and slow cooked over wood coals; short rib hash; tarragon baby vegetables and morel sauce.

Paired with my personal favourite "1st and Last" - rich in flavour and spiced with a cardomom syrup and cinnamon stick - one gets a high just from the aroma it oozes.

Paired with my personal favourite “1st and Last” – rich in flavour and spiced with a cardomom syrup and cinnamon stick – one gets a high just from the aroma it oozes.

Dessert is something that always comes as a treat, more so in this case being prepared at the table. The “1-Caramel Dessert Experience” which was served on a platter and to be shared was certainly made even more irresistible with its baked Alaska with strawberry ice cream and warm chocolate brownie; Valhrona chocolate praline bomb with berry compote; and vanilla crème brûlée with dulce leche ice cream. The 1-Caramel Dessert Experience is one that is paired with “El Favorito”, a very rich combination of Martell Cordon Bleu, vanilla ice-cream, Mascarpone cheese and white cacao – said to bring emotions to your head, with a sweet and creamy flavour – it did well complement the dessert experience and while it was perhaps a little too heavy for me, it was a sweet and flavourful way to bring the tasting session accompanied by one of the best views of modern Singapore out the window, to a conclusion.

Preparing the 1-Caramel Dessert Experience: Baked Alaska with strawberry ice cream and warm chocolate brownie; Valhrona chocolate praline bomb with berry compote; vanilla crème brûlée with dulce leche ice cream.

Preparing the 1-Caramel Dessert Experience: Baked Alaska with strawberry ice cream and warm chocolate brownie; Valhrona chocolate praline bomb with berry compote; vanilla crème brûlée with dulce leche ice cream.

Dessert is served.

Dessert is served.

The baked Alaska.

The baked Alaska.

Dessert is paired with "El Favorito": Martell Cordon Bleu, vanilla ice-cream, Mascarpone cheese and white cacao.

Dessert is paired with “El Favorito”: Martell Cordon Bleu, vanilla ice-cream, Mascarpone cheese and white cacao.

The “Pairing with Martell” menu is available at Stellar at 1Altitude until 14 April 2013. Besides the individual paired items on the menu, a set menu which includes all dishes and cocktails, is also available at s$185++. Reservations are highly recommended.

Under the Flyer

7 03 2012

One experience that many who lived in or visited Singapore back in the days when Policemen did wear shorts, often look fondly back to, is that of dining on the streets. In those days, whole streets and car parks would magically be transformed into bustling eating places as night fell. The invasion would first be led by the army of push-carts laden with the raw ingredients that would be turned into scrumptious street fare, and the load of stools and foldable tables that would seat hungry patrons. As day turned to night, the concentrations of pushcarts, with tables arranged in front of them, would turn the otherwise dark and dingy streets into a sea of light and shadow, as diners began to fill the tables that never quite seem to sit firmly on the ground, greedily wolfing down what lay in front of them. It was in this hot, sticky and less than sanitary environment, in the glow of kerosene pressure lamps, and flicker of flames that leapt from under the blackened woks against which the almost musical and somewhat rhythmic clang of spatulas being furiously moved would be made, that many popular hawkers acquired and perfected their art. For those who dared to brave not just the conditions, but also the often ill-mannered assistants one needed to shout orders at, the reward wasn’t just the fare on offer, but the unforgettable atmosphere that unfortunately could not be replicated in the more sanitary food centers the same hawkers were to eventually move to.

Silhouettes against the spotlight - the Singapore Food Trail livens up the recreation of the 1960s street dining atmosphere by brining in various forms of street entertainment - not necessarily from the 1960s, from time to time.

The Singapore Food Trail brings the experience of street dining back to Singapore.

There are many who lived through those heady days of a Singapore in transition who now look back and realise that the relentless pace of change has consigned much of what made Singapore, Singapore, to seemingly distant memories. There is a current wave of nostalgia that sees attempts to bring some of the experiences that would otherwise be lost back. One such attempt is the Singapore Food Trail at the Singapore Flyer, a 800-seat themed food court which attempts to take the diner back to the days of dining on the streets of the 1960s Singapore. Walking through the Singapore Food Trail, it is easy imagine that you are where the setting aims to place you in. Old style tables and chairs – maybe not the type you might have found used on the streets, set against a disordered backdrop of push-carts that are the food stalls, each different to give a feel of what it might once have been like, arranged in front of what appears to be shop houses and five-foot ways. No effort has been spared in trying to recreate the atmosphere – all around, there are those reminders of that forgotten world that many would recall with fondness – the very recognisable logos of famous brands, old style signboards, bamboo chicks (blinds) painted with logos that were commonly seen providing shade to coffee shops and sundry shops, and lots of paraphernalia from those days of old. Help was enlisted from the likes of clan associations as well as some of the owners of the famous brands (including Nestlé Singapore in recreating signboards and signs to lend an air of authenticity to them. The push-carts serve up fare from what perhaps are the who’s-who of today’s hawkers – hand picked from over 100 who applied. It is also amongst the stalls where some old time favourites – ice-balls, kacang putih and bird’s nest drink, await rediscovery.

It is easy to imagine that one is immersed in the atmosphere of the 1960s street dining scene at the 800 seat Singapore Food Trail.

One of the things I enjoy about dining “under the flyer” (some may recall a very popular hawker – the Whitley Road Food Centre which was located in the shadows of the Thomson Road flyover which was commonly referred to as “Under the Flyover“), are the attempts to also liven up the “streets” with various forms of entertainment – some of which would have been a common feature of the 1960s, as well as some forms which are more common these days that have evolved from some of what we did occasionally see on the streets. This included the very well received Teochew Opera performances by the Thau Yong Amateur Musical Association in July of last year, and over the last weekend, a Getai Extravaganza.

吴佩芝 (Wu Pei Zhi) on stage. Kitsch as it may seem, Getai has a wide reach in Singapore.

Love it or hate it – some find the form of entertainment crude and even kitsch, Getai (歌台) has firmly established itself as a very popular form of street entertainment in modern day Singapore. It had its roots not in the 1960s, but in the 1970s when waning interest in Chinese puppet shows and opera performances which were features of temple festivals and seventh month (Hungry Ghosts festival) auctions saw them being replaced by live variety shows which came to be referred to as Getai, which translates into “Song Stage”.

A pair of twins, the Shinning Sisters (闪亮姐妹) were among the performers for the night.

吴佩芝 (Wu Pei Zhi).

The 3 day Getai Extravaganza brought in by the Singapore Food Trail was one that saw many well know personalities in the getai scene – both emcees and performers, and based on the the crowd it attracted and the reaction of the crowd which counted both young and old in it, was a huge success. Sunday’s show was hosted by Marcus Chin (陈建彬) and Lin Kai Li (林凯莉), and featured performances by Zhan Yuling (詹玉玲), Shun Qiang (孙强), the Shining Sisters (闪亮姐妹), Desmond Ng (黄振隆), Ting Ting (婷婷), Wu Pei Zhi (吴佩芝), Zhang Xiong (张雄), as well as an impersonation of the comedy pair Lao Fu Zi and Da Fan Shu (老夫子与大番薯). Most of the audience at Sunday’s show were glued to their seats throughout the evening which also attracted a large number of bystanders as well as had those manning the stalls off their seats. Although I am not a huge fan of Getai myself, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment provided at the show and it definitely was for me, a Sunday evening that was well spent.

Emcees for the evening, Marcus Chin (陈建彬) and 林凯莉 (Lin Kai Li).

Marcus Chin had many in stitches.

Desmond Ng (黄振隆).

The Shinning Sisters on stage.

Some of the members of the audience were off their feet.

The impersonation of Lao Fu Zi and Da fan Shu had many laughing ...

... including those manning the stalls.

Get Ready to Paint the Town Peri-Peri

21 12 2011

I’m never one to chicken out of painting the town red whenever I am offered a chance to. And now, there’s a chance not just to paint the town not just red, but also very saucy, as well as getting away being chicken, with a nationwide campaign launched by Nando’s to hunt for Singapore’s Favourite Peri-Peri Flavour! Peri-Peri sauce is as most of us who have been stung by that first flavourful bite into the juicy, succulent and well marinated famous flame-grilled chicken know, synonymous with Nando’s, offering four degrees of hotness with Lemon & Herb, Mild, Hot, or Extra Hot flavouring it. Singaporeans we know, do like it hot, but just how hot we like it is something that Nando’s hopes to find out in a contest that runs from 1 December 2011 to 31 January 2012 and will perhaps offer voters a much better choice than what we had in voting contests of recent memory.

Some like it hot! There's a chance now to vote for how hot you actually like it!

Do let Nando's know how hot you like it!

Speaking about the launch of the campaign, Ms Mac Chung Lynn, CEO of Nando’s Chickenland Singapore Pte Ltd, said: “This campaign is a celebration of Nando’s key ingredient that has made it famous all over the world – the specially blended Peri-Peri sauces. We hope to engage Singapore in a fun and competitive voting contest while simultaneously communicating our vibrant brand personality and key attributes.” During the campaign period, Singaporeans can cast their votes – at any of the five Nando’s outlets they dine in, during Nando’s street activation activities, or via their Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/Nandosperiperichickensingapore). Online voters and those involved in the street activation activities are also entitled to win instant prizes via lucky dips that include 1,000 full chickens amongst other prizes, and hotting things up even further, at the end of the voting period, 100 lucky voters of the winning flavour will be invited to participate in a specially themed Nando’s party that we are given to understand is guaranteed to raise the Peri-o-meter temperature even further!

Don't be surprised to see some pretty faces rallying for their favourite flavour during the campaign.

With all that to raise the temperature this cold and wet time of the year, there certainly is no reason to go cold on this vote and however hot you do like your chix – there is one – flavour that is, that will definitely please you … so do head down to a Nando’s outlet, or to the Nando’s Facebook Page and make your choice. And remember, please vote saucily!

Voting Card for restaurant diners.

My choice is clear!

Be seduced by some Extra Hot Chix!

11 12 2011

Much as I am somewhat of a glutton, I must admit that it doesn’t take a glutton to think twice about accepting and invitation for a food tasting session at Nando’s – especially when one discovers out the delectable treats the restaurant in Singapore now has to offer on its menu. Nando’s, famous for its flame-grilled chicken, has been one of my favourite drools ever since my first bite, having stumbled upon one outlet on a cold, wet and dark winter’s evening in London in 1995 – and when that invitation to go for the Nando’s Chickenland Getaway, it had to be a yes.

I have been a fan of Peri-Peri since stumbling upon a Nando's outlet in London in 1995.

Walking into what seemed like a group of unruly protestors holding placards at their new Tampines Mall outlet, it did feel like I might have been in London again – I wasn’t of course, the protestors actually promoters for Nando’s latest campaign which I wold mention in another post. Being one of the later ones to arrive, it wasn’t long before the first of several treats came – in the form of colourful Designer Drinks – Madeira Red and Refresh Mint. One sip of the Madeira Red – a pomegranate lemonade made with Sprite, and I was in a very sweet and refreshing part of heaven! Loved it so much that I had to have another.

Designer Drinks to die for.

Soon after the drinks were served and introductions were made to break the ice, it was time to share – we were advised that sharing is very much a part of the culture that gave us Nando’s and a feature of Nando’s menus are sharing meals – one, a starter, Pestico was promptly served together with some other starter items on the menu – Wild Mushroom Soup with Bread and Chicken Livers with Portuguese Roll. The chicken, as well as livers, are made with the secretly blended world-famous Nando’s Peri-Peri sauce that makes Nando’s such a huge hit – which come in four flavours from which the customer can choose from which are Extra Hot, Hot, Mild and Lemon and Herb. I’ve always been one for Extra Hot the Petisco platter which was flavoured just with that, was, I thought, made it perfect. The Petisco comes with chicken wings and thighs, served with olives, Peri hummus and Cream Perinaise on the side and is a sharing platter that is certainly an excellent way to begin any meal at Nando’s. I am not one for innards, but with Peri-Peri flavouring it, I really didn’t mind the Chicken Livers at all. The other item is also a good way to start – Wild Mushroom Soup loaded with the taste of wild mushrooms! And with starters so mouth-watering, it did seem as if there wasn’t going to be place for what was to come.

Pestico - a starter to share with chicken wings and thighs, pita and hummus and olives.

Chicken Livers with Portuguese Roll.

Comfort food - Wild Mushroom Soup with Bread - loaded with the flavour of Wild Mushrooms.

Having done an excellent job in delivering the starters, the polite and attentive staff soon delivered the main courses – first up were attractive looking tender pieces of marinated flame-grilled chicken thighs on a skwewer supported by a metal frame, and served with sides – Espetada. This came to us again in different flavours – I tried the Lemon and Herb, which I always thought was a nice choice if the senses demanded something that wasn’t hot. I loved it – the juicy and flavourful bits of chicken would certainly be a huge hit with anyone who tries them and makes an excellent alternative choice of a chicken dish. We also had flame grilled quarters of chicken as is traditionally served in Nando’s as well as another dish that I was really surprised with – the Cataplana. I requested for the chicken to come naked – so to speak – served without the topping of Peri-Peri sauce that it seems to be always doused in both in Singapore and Malaysia – something which I felt disguises the real taste of the famous flame-grilled chicken. What came was served just how I asked for it – and I wasn’t at all disappointed. Without the chicken unclothed, I could as I suspected, taste it for what it really was – the rich flavours of chicken pieces that had been flavourfully marinated coming to the fore – just the way I had fallen in love with it off that cold dark street in London.

The Espetada being served.

The Espetada - skewered pieces of deliciously marinated flame-grilled chicken thighs, comes served with a choice of two side dishes.

A close-up of the Espetada dish which makes an excellent alternative to the traditional serving of chicken quarters.

Naked chix which appeal to me - without the huge amount of sauce that it is often served with - this is how I think that you can really taste the flavours that makes Nando's such a hit worldwide.

What I thought was a most excellent addition to the wonderful Nando’s menu is the Cataplana. I always have enjoyed a meal of the traditional rice dishes found around much of the Mediterranean which are always full of flavour, but I have always found the flavours a little overpowering on the dishes, being used to how rice is served in this part of the world. Half expecting that to be the same of the Cataplana with strips of Peri-Peri basted chicken, peppers and ripe tomatoes trapped in a traditional copper dish over a bed of spice rice, which the menu suggests is waiting to be opened, I was pleasantly surprised with the rich but subtle flavours found in the dish, flavours that certainly did not overpower, but complemented the ingredients perfectly and it is for me not just a dish waiting to be opened, but one I can’t wait to have a go at again!

The one that really surprised me with it's rich flavours that do not overpower - the Cataplana.

No makan session would be complete without desserts, and after the wonderful main courses that were served, Nando’s obliged with a selection of wonderful looking desserts, which included Natas – traditional Portuguese egg custard tarts (something I always find hard to resist), cakes and another item that so delighted me – Chocolate Crunch Rolls – melted chocolates mixed with biscuits – which didn’t do my attempts at shedding some weight no favours – as I just had to have more of it!

The selection of desserts from Nando's includes Natas, and Chocolate Crunch Roll.

I guess with all that on offer, there is more reason to be seduced by Nando’s hot chix, especially with Nando’s expansion into the heartlands with two new outlets, the one that I had the treat in at Tampines Mall and another that will be opened in December at Katong I12. Both are decorated in the warm and welcoming colours and natural wood and certainly adds to the dining ambience. Nando’s I12 Katong will also offer something more when it opens, with an exclusive Breakfast menu, as well as with extended opening hours till 1am from Sundays to Thursdays, and till 3am on Friday and Saturday late nights. A special Snack and Beverage menu will be on offer during the extended hours.

Nando's newly opened Tampines Mall outlet (image courtesy of Nando's Singapore).

To commemorate the opening of the two outlets, Nando’s has also introduced sharing meals for the festive period that is ideal for families and groups of friends. Available in platters for two, four or six people, what is on offer are juicy chicken thighs grilled to perfection, grilled corn on the cobs, Mediterranean rice, salads, potato wedges and other side dishes. Something else that is surely reason enough to go to Nando’s this festive season to celebrate!

Nando's Sharing Meals to celebrate the opening of the two latest Nando's outlets (image courtesy of Nando's Singapore).

Information on Nando’s Sharing Meals:

Celebration for 2 – $38.80
– 2 x ¼ chickens
– 1 x Peri Wedges & Creamy Perinaise
– 1 x Salad (Choice of Portuguese or Caesar Salad)
– 3 x Regular Sidelines of your choice
– 1 x Citra (1/2 litre)

Celebration for 4 – $68.80
– 4 x ¼ chickens
– 1 x Peri Wedges & Creamy Perinaise
– 1 x Salad (Choice of Portuguese or Caesar Salad)
– 4 x Large Sidelines of your choice
– 1 x Citra (1 litre)

Celebration for 6 – $98.80
– 6 x ¼ chickens
– 1 x Peri Wedges & Creamy Perinaise
– 2 x Salad (Choice of Portuguese or Caesar Salad)
– 5 x Large Sidelines of your choice
– 2 x Citra (1 litre)

You’ve gotta love that Verve

6 12 2011

Nothing beats having simple things done right, and that is just what a Pizza Bar in Marina Bay, which had its opening on 1 Dec 2011, attempts to do with its selection of pizzas, pastas and gelato. “Simple things done right” is a guiding principle that has found its way into the motto of Verve, the group that behind the Pizza Bar which is the latest addition to its family, as well as Pizzerias in Clarke Quay and One North, having started out at its original location in Gillman Village.

Gelato being served on opening night on 1 Dec 2011. An exquisite set of flavours of Verve's homemade gelato is on offer at the Pizza Bar on Marina Bay at $6 a scoop.

Mr Rob Coldman and partner Karen on opening night.

The band played on ....

Verve, the brainchild of Mr Rob Coldman, is very much inspired by passionate people behind simple but great products that people want, products that are without complication and fuss. This includes the likes of Enrico Piaggio, whose vision of developing a low-cost motorcycle for the masses in the 1940s resulted in the Vespa scooter – the simplicity of which endures to this very day.

Pizzas, gelato, tiramisù shots, cocktails and more was on offer at Verve Marina Bay's opening night on 1 Dec 2011.

My introduction to Verve, came by way of an invitation to an event at the Marina Bay City Gallery which culminated in a tasting session at the al fresco Pizza Bar – the setting of which was simple and almost unassuming. Comfortably seated, it was what came next that delighted me. First to be served were the cocktails and if not for the fact that I was driving, I would have had more than one of the refreshing Appletinis, made with fresh Granny Smith apples. The selection of starters Calamari with Garlic Cream and Potato Wedges with Chilli Crab dip were simply well fried, drained and utterly delicious especially the Chilli Crab dip that accompanied the wedges.

An Appletini - made with fresh Granny Smith apples.

Verve Pizza Bar at the Marina Bay City Gallery.

Calamari with Verve Garlic Cream.

Potato Wedges with Chilli Crab dip.

What I certainly enjoyed the most were the pizzas – authentic thin crust Italian style pizzas made with fresh dough and topped with a simple and well-balanced selection of toppings that gave the pizzas a clean and uncomplicated taste – just how I like my pizzas. Of the pizzas we were to taste, the Enzo bowled me over with its toppings of Peking duck with just the right amount of sauce, fresh Japanese cucumber and spring onions –the menu did hint that “You’ll come back for more!” and its something I certainly would go back for a lot more! The other pizzas on offer, the Altobello (Spicy Beef), Mancini (BBQ Chicken) and Capricciosa (Ham and Artichokes), were no less delicious, and if not for the unique experience of Peking duck on pizza the Capricciosa would have got my vote.

Pizza Capricciosa with Mozzarella, tomato, mushrooms, artichokes, cooked.

Pizza Mancini - BBQ chicken with onions, cheese and peppers.

Pizza Enzo - Peking duck topped with fresh Japanese cucumber ... the menu suggests that "You'll come back for more!" - I certainly would!

There was also a treat at the end, a raid on the gelato bar. With a selection of Forrest Berries Sorbet, Decadent Chocolate, Lime Sorbet, Chocolate Baileys, Hazelnut, pistachio, Green Almond, Vanilla Cognac, Cookies and Cream – it was hard to make a choice. I finally settled on the Hazelnut – I somehow invariably fall for a nut flavoured gelato, something that I had no regrets about, savouring each mouthful of the soft creamy and nutty flavoured treat – something as well that I would most certainly be back again for more!

Too many choices at the gelato counter!

A selection of gelato.

About Verve:

Verve was established with a short motto that has become the guiding principle to our business proposition. “Simple things done right”.

We’ve been inspired by passionate people who have set out to do the same. People who have provided simple but great products that people want, without complication and without fuss.

People like aeronautical designer, Enrico Piaggio who back in the 1940’s had a vision of a low-cost motorcycle for the masses.

Long before ergonomic studies had been recognised or fully understood, the riding position of the Vespa was designed by Enrico to let the rider sit upright with a clear view, comfortably and safely.

The motorbikes of the time he found to be uncomfortable and bulky, with wheels that were difficult to change after a puncture. Worse still, the drive chain made them dirty. However, his aeronautical experience secured the answer to every problem. To eliminate the chain he designed a vehicle with a stress-bearing body and direct mesh; he put the gear lever on the handlebar to make it easier to ride; to make tyre changing easier he removed the forks in favour of a supporting arm similar to an olio aircraft carriage. Finally, he designed a body that would protect the driver so that he would not get dirty or dishevelled.

In 1946 the first Vespa (Wasp in Italian) was born. It has become an enduring icon in it’s own right, and as transport for the masses is a perfect example of something simple, done right.

Classic images of Enrico’s work can be found at our new restaurant at One-North, off North Buona Vista Road.

Like Enrico’s Vespa, our aim is to continually improve.


Fading faces from a once familiar place

22 07 2011

Those who frequented Tanjong Pagar Railway Station would probably remember the many faces that were associated with the station in one way or another. The people behind the once familiar faces are the ones who brought life and activity to the old station and with the station’s closure, may soon be forgotten. This is my attempt to capture some of the faces in the days that led up to the 30th of June 2011 just to help with the memory of what made Tanjong Pagar Railway Station a station that will forever be in our hearts.

Posts on the Railway through Singapore and on the Green Corridor:

I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.

The river I once knew

7 07 2011

I first set eyes on the Singapore River in my very early years when I accompanied my mother on her regular forays to the department stores in Raffles Place. To get to them, we would cross the river on the wonderfully designed Cavenagh Bridge. The open balustrades of the bridge offered an excellent view of the comings and goings on the busy river. It was fascinating to the curious child that I was, to watch the heavily laden wooden twakows (cargo boats) straining upriver with the cargoes that their much larger, steel-hulled cousins in the inner harbour had fed them. Even more fascinating to me was the spirited movement downriver of the boats whose bellies had been emptied by the industrious coolies at the many godowns (warehouses) lining the river.

Cavenagh Bridge.

Watching the coolies at work fascinated me more than seeing the passing of the twakows. I would stop and stare at the men as they took small but quick steps across the narrow planks that linked the boats to the stepped, concrete banks of the river. The planks would strain under the weight – not so much that of the bare-bodied men themselves, but of the load that each balanced on one shoulder. The loads seemed not just to outweigh the men who bore them, but to also be larger than the coolies’ lightly built frames. At times it looked as if the planks were too narrow, but I never once saw those men lose the ability to balance themselves and the offset loads that they carried.

A scan from an old postcard showing the river in busier days, filled with the twakows that transported goods from their steel hulled cousins upriver to the numerous godowns that lined the river.

In those days, besides the colourful distractions that the twakows, godowns and coolies provided, the waterway had a reputation for its less than pleasant smell. In fact, many visitors who arrived prior to the late 1980s remember Singapore for the river’s smells. It was an odour that I well remember myself and was reason enough for my mother to avoid stopping by the very popular Boat Quay food stalls. These had fitted themselves onto the narrow strip of land between the back of the buildings that lined the river (one was the Bank of China Building) and the river itself.

The (old) bank of China Building set against the new building has been one of the few survivors of the area around the river since I first became acquainted with the area in the late 1960s.

Much of what went on in and around the river had indeed contributed to how it smelled, as well as to the murky waters that the twakows ploughed through. A massive effort to clean up the river began in 1977 and meant that life in and around the river as it was, would soon be a thing of the past. The twakows, a feature of the river for over a hundred years, disappeared in the early 1980s, an event that I somehow missed. By the time I got around to visiting the river again, they had vanished from the waters that had once held hundreds of them. Soon, the river was to be cut off from the sea that had given it life, with reclamation work at Marina South and the construction of the Marina Barrage. The river did not go quietly, however, and is now entering its second life, integrated into a potential source of fresh water for the modern metropolis that has grown around it.

A massive effort to clean up the river began in 1977 and the twakows, a feature of the river for over a hundred years, disappeared in the early 1980s, Many of the godowns along Boat Quay (seen here dwarfed by the steel and glass of new Singapore) have since been transformed into food and entertainment outlets.

Nevertheless, the river will always evoke its colourful past for me. I still look at it through the eyes of the child, and what I see are images of the twakows, coolies and godowns that are today all but forgotten.

This post has been published in the July / August 2011 issue of Passage, a Friends of the Museums, Singapore publication as “Singapore River Reminisces, Boat Quay in the 1970s”.

A night at the Opera

4 07 2011

Teochew that is! I had the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do … get up close and personal with the performers at the back of the wayang stage, and with the kind invitation of the URA’s Marina Bay Singapore and the Select Group’s Singapore Food Trail, I got to do just that over the weekend. The behind the scenes visit allowed a group of us to watch and photograph performers of the Thau Yong Amateur Musical Association backstage (on an authentic wayang stage borrowed from the Pulau Ubin opera troupe) as they went through their routines in getting dolled up for the evening’s performance. The performances were part of the Singapore Food Trail’s initiatives to bring back the good old days of Singapore in what was termed as “A Night of Nostalgia” to bring us back to the heyday of Teochew Opera on the streets of Singapore in the 1960s.

The Singapore Food Trail aims to bring the atmosphere of the streets of the Singapore of the 1960s with authentic street hawker fare in a 1960s setting under the Singapore Flyer.

The colours that the various genres of Chinese operas (often referred to locally as “wayang”) brought to the streets of the Singapore of old, if not for anything else, always were a visual treat. They were a huge draw, bringing with them the entourage of mobile vendor providing a carnival like atmosphere each time they came to the area. My maternal grandmother with her lack of the command of any other language other than her native Bahasa Indonesia was a huge fan, often dragging me along in my early years as her companion. And even when I could never sit quite still below the wayang stage as the performers went about their routines, I was a more than willing companion to my grandmother as I could never resist the reward of a drink from the bird’s nest drink vendor which more often than not was a sweetened drink with bits of jelly in it which was made to taste like the real thing, and also a visit to the toy vendor from which I could get my hands on items such as a sword made of paper mache that split into two lengthwise when it came out of the paper mache scabbard.

Street operas were a favourite of my maternal grandmother. Performers from the Thau Yong Amateur Musical Associationare seen performing an excerpt from The Fragrant Handkerchief on an authentic stage at the Singapore Food Trail.

What sometimes fascinated me on the stage were the costumes and the make-up of that the performers had on. The painted faces sometimes terrified me, so much so that back then, I never could never muster up the courage to peek backstage where the performers would have their make-up done well before the performances started, even as many boys in my neighbourhood did. That was something that I thought I would never be able to do again as I grew up, wayangs became less common as Singapore’s rapid urbanisation resulted in many traditions being lost to modernisation. When I had heard of the troupe that is still performing on Pulau Ubin earlier, I had actually wanted to visit Pulau Ubin, even though I am not what one might consider to be a big fan, to immerse myself in atmosphere of being around once again, which perhaps I hope will transport me back to the carefree days of my childhood, and I was plesantly surprised when I got an invitation to watch one at the Singapore Food Trail and at the same time sample the street fare that I imagined was long lost. What was a huge bonus was the opportunity provided by the organisers as well as with the kind permission of the Thau Yong Amateur Musical Association, to watch and photograph the performers as they got their faces painted and hair done up on an authentic wayang stage. Being backstage was fascinating and I took it all in with the excitement of a child … taking lots of photographs some of which I have added to this post. What was equally fascinating was watching the performances which I thoroughly enjoyed and have perhaps Pei Yun of Oceanskies to thank for enlightening me on the excerpts that were being performed. I can also say that at the end of the evening performances I have become a little bit of a fan … Thau Yong Amateur Musical Association I understand in celebrating the 80th anniversary this year – I do hope that they are able to see at least another 80 and many more years to allow them to continue the excellent effort in keeping what is a dying tradition alive for our future generations.

The scene backstage about 3 hours before the performances.

A make-up artist helping a performer with her make-up.

The eyes have it ...

Two performers having their initial make-up done. Lipstick would be applied after dinner.

A peek backstage ...

A performer having make-up around her eyes done.

A peek outside ...

More eye work ...

A mirror to the face of a performer.

The hair is done after the initial make-up is applied.

Make-up and hair done ... but not the lips yet.

A male performer having his make-up done.

A female performer applying her initial make-up.

The hair being done for another performer.

Finishing touches on the hair.

Two performers sharing a lighthearted moment ...

Another performer relaxing during the preparations.

Putting her headdress on.

The female lead performer all dolled up.

The scholar ...

A female performer.

Full battle order.

The audience were treated to Teochew melodies before the Teochew Opera performance.

The performances were on an authentic wayang stage borrowed from the Pulau Ubin troupe.

Audiences young and old were enthralled.

The “bright” lights of Prince Edward Road and the Polytechnic by the sea

16 05 2010

There was a time when my parents used to take us, my sister and me, to Mount Faber on quite a regular basis. The excursions were almost always, done in the evenings when it was a lot more pleasant, and would more often than not, culminate in a drive down Keppel Road for  dinner. Then, there were plenty of choices of street food, that seemed to taste a lot better then than it somehow does in the food centres of today. For reasons that have escaped me, my parents avoided going to nearby Chinatown, and Keppel Road seemed an obvious choice, as it was well known for the two dimly lit car parks which would came to life each evening, illuminated by the relatively bright lights of hawker stalls, the bustle of a hungry crowd and the metallic sounds of noodles being violently tossed in the wok. One of these was the car park in front of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, one that we didn’t frequent as much as the one down by the east end of Keppel Road, at the large car park on Prince Edward Road.

Looking down Shenton Way and the former Quays towards Prince Edward Road in the early 1960s. The Singapore Polytechnic buildings can be seen at the top of the photograph (Source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

The car park that hosted the hawker stalls of the early 1970s?

I only have vague memories of where it was exactly, unable perhaps to make very much of the visual picture presented, beyond the distraction provided by the mess of hawker stalls, tables and chairs, seen in the half light that was filtered by the greasy smoke that filled the air with its pungent lard laden aroma. The car park I suppose would be the one opposite the old Singapore Polytechnic campus that we see today, or perhaps not, but what I did remember were the rows of lighted pushcarts from which there would have been a choice of everything the Singaporean hawkers were known to conjure up. There was the tomato ketchup stained mee goreng that I so loved, the starch laden oyster omelette that was a favourite of my father, and the spicy piping hot sup kambing that was my favourite. That was a place that perhaps I took for granted, never for once imagining that it would disappear one day. It did eventually, I don’t quite remember when, and in going the way of the many other street food places, flavour somehow gets lost in the relocation to the sanitised premises of the new food centres which were built to get the hawkers off the streets. Perhaps it was with the sanitary conditions that made the difference, where dish washing would have been done in basins of water next to opened drains into which flowed not just the washing water, but the contents of that were on the plates and bowls on which the drain’s residents would have thought of as a feast.

The Singapore Polytechnic operated at its former premises on Prince Edward Road from 1958 to the mid 1970s (photo courtesy of Mr Ma Yoke Long).

Prince Edward Road then, was also home to the premises of Singapore’s first Polytechnic, the unimaginatively named Singapore Polytechnic. The Polytechnic was established in 1954 with the passing of the Singapore Polytechnic Ordinance and classes began with an initial enrollment of 2800 students when the building was completed in late 1958 (it was officially opened in early 1959). The Polytechnic initially offered 58 different courses to train a pool of technicians for the developing economy of the island and remained at Prince Edward Road until the mid 1970s when it moved in stages to its present campus at Dover Road. The building that housed the Polytechnic still stands today as the Bestway Building, offering us a glimpse of an architectural style that is very typical of the era during which it was built. It was designed by Swan and MacLaren, which has had a hand in designing much of Singapore’s magnificent colonial buildings and civil infrastructure, and remains somewhat forgotten in a little pocket of land that time seems to have forgotten, at odds with the skyscraper infested financial centre that has sprouted up next to it. Whether it and the area around it would stand the test of time that many of the older buildings in the area have yielded to, perhaps only time will tell.

The original Singapore Polytechnic building has a new lease of life as the Bestway Building.

Another view of the building that was once the Singapore Polytechnic.

The premises of the former Singapore Polytechnic is still used as an education centre.

The basketball court of the former premises of the Singapore Polytechnic.

A view of one of the buildings that housed the Singapore Polytechnic.

Another view of the façade.