Spreading happiness at Serangoon Gardens

14 02 2013

Tucked away in a somewhat obscure area of Serangoon Gardens is a delightful little café that as its name, Sun Ray Café, suggests, brings sun rays over the area. Describing itself as a joyful and offbeat spot, the cafe is probably better known to pet owners – it being one of the few pet friendly eateries found in the area of Singapore.  I guess, not being a pet owner, I might be forgiven for not being aware of the cafe, and it was only through an invitation for a food tasting session that I got to know of its existence.

Yu Sheng that is served not with raw fish, but with smoked salmon and tossed with a fork.

Yu Sheng that is served not with raw fish, but with smoked salmon and tossed with a fork.

That it is an offbeat place is probably also seen in some of the food creations made specially for the occasion of the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day. One of the first things we got  to do was toss the what has come to be a tradition for the Lunar New Year in Singapore and Malaysia, Yu Sheng or Raw Fish Salad. That is perhaps as traditional as it does get, not only is the “Raw Fish” Salad topped not by raw fish as its name might suggest, but by a generous helping of smoked salmon, but it also is  tossed with a fork. Topped off with croutons, and served with plum sauce, the salad’s ingredients and the salmon topping is shaped into a short cylinder in a mould – taking on a rather quirky and non-conventional appearance. The Sun Ray Café Yu Sheng Platter, named Rising Joy is rather a rather delightful twist to the traditional dish, comes in two sizes – a small portion ideal for 2 diners is priced at $10.80 and the large portion for 4 diners costs $16.80 and will be available until 24 February. Being a pet friendly, the café also serves a pet version of the dish with boiled salmon, a portion of which costs $6.80.

A peek into the pet friendly café.

A peek into the pet friendly café.

The main part of the food tasting was to introduce the café’s Valentine’s Day menu (for which this post probably comes a little too late for). Available on 13 and 14 February, the menu comes with a choice of three entrées. The menu is also served with a Smoked Salmon Salad served with a wonderful walnut sauce dressing; a Cuppa’ Mushroom Soup inspired by how cappuccino is served these days which I thought was just right – light and not overladen with cream; a choice of Home Made Tiramisu or Chocolate Lava Cake; and a choice of drinks – a Signature Mocktail Mellini or a glass of House Wine. The entrées can be selected from a Australian Seared Steak (marinated in red wine and rosemary and served with Lyonnais potatoes); Crusted Salmon (sesame crusted salmon with sweet taro mash – I am told it is naturally sweet taro); or the Honey Glazed Spring Chicken (grilled and served with oven-roasted potatoes). I though the salmon turned out the best – full of flavour complemented by the sesame crust. The steak was also tender and juicy and rich in flavour. The chicken however did taste a little too sweet and wasn’t to my liking. The menus are priced at $45 for the steak, $35 for the salmon and  $30 for the chicken.

The smoked salmon salad with a walnut sauce dressing.

The smoked salmon salad with a walnut sauce dressing.

Cuppa' Mushroom Soup.

Cuppa’ Mushroom Soup.

The Valentine's Day menu offers a choice of entrées. The Australian Seared Steak menu costs $45.

The Valentine’s Day menu offers a choice of entrées. The Australian Seared Steak menu costs $45.

The crusted salmon.

The crusted salmon served with sweet taro mash.

Honey Glazed Spring Chicken.

Honey Glazed Spring Chicken.

The very refreshing Signature Mellini Mocktail.

The very refreshing Signature Mellini Mocktail.

Besides the food – the café’s owner is also big on coffee. A trained barista, he hopes to also turn the café into one that serves specialty coffees and is considering roasting his own beans. Tthe café was kind enough to have a little coffee appreciation session during which Columbia Geisha beans (which we were told cost $300 a kg!) were used and the practice of coffee cupping was  introduced – after which I will not look at a cup of kopi-o in the same way again.

Brewing the Geisha beans.

Brewing the Geisha beans.

A cupping spoon.

A cupping spoon.

Located at 79 Brighton Crescent, more information on the pet friendly café can be found at its Facebook page. And do note that, as a special treat, the café is extending a $10 return voucher – all you would need to do to claim the voucher is to say “Happiness will keep us alive!” to the staff serving you.


11 04 2011

That Serangoon Gardens is an area that is blessed with some of the best eating places in Singapore, there is no doubt. It had been a haunt for food lovers since I can remember, with Chomp Chomp being a popular food centre even back in the days when I was a child. Now, there is even more reason for food lovers to brave the weekend crowds that throng Serangoon Gardens in search of good makan. The redevelopment of what had been for a while, Serangoon Garden Village (developed around the former Paramount Theatre), to an new and very interesting mall, myVillage, one with which the owners’ aim to bring Orchard Road into the suburbs. Packed into a really cosy mall that does not give the impression of having the space to, is a wonderful array of food establishments, which I am given to understand, have been hand selected for the care in which each outlet puts into in bringing the culinary delights on offer, from the traditional to the new age, that is certain to leave one a little spoilt for choice and with a food sampling invitation from the good people of myVillage, along with a few other bloggers, I was able to find out a little more of the choices that are on offer.

myVillage brings not just a modern mall into the heart of Serangoon Garden, but also an interesting array of culinary delights to an area that is already well known as a food lovers haunt.

We started out at Daikokuya, which translates into “God of Wealth” in Japanese, during which we were introduced not just to its interesting menu of Ramen on offer, but also to the chef, Chef Suzuki. We were told of the painstaking process with which the rich Ramen broth is prepared, with pork or chicken bones boiled along with seafood and vegetables for many hours. In the preparation of everything on offer, there is no effort spared in bringing out the best, an example is with the cha shu (sliced roast pork) being boiled in the base broth of 2 hours and simmered in a special sauce for a further 3 hours. We had two sample sized portions to start our food journey, one was of the Original Miso Noodles which came complete with a ramen egg that is soft boiled as the write-up provided described it, to perfection and the other, of the Stamina Noodles, made to last a long time in the tummy (hence “stamina”). With both, the rich broth was certainly a treat, and certainly as ramen food for the soul goes, provides not just the soul, but also the palate and one’s stomach with a wonderful treat.

Dikokuya Original Miso Ramen

Chef Suzuki of Daikokuya giving an introduction of the offerings at the modern version of a ramen-ya.

Stamina Ramen.

The sample size Original Miso Ramen - complete with a piece of a soft-boiled egg. Daikokuya uses organic eggs in their dishes.

The sample sized Stamina Ramen.

Moving on, we next found ourselves at Bakerzin Artisan Bread. Bakerzin is already well established in Singapore and well known for its sweet treats, and the Bakerzin Artisan Bread provides the group with another dimension, being the first store in the group dedicated to a variety of European inspired breads, bringing Daniel Tay, the founder of the group back to his roots – baking bread. I have always been one for bread – and a good loaf of freshly baked bread is something that I can never resist. It is the aroma of freshly baked bread that often draws me to a bakery – and that is something that is certainly evident at Bakerzin Artisan Bread, with a display of hard crusted European styled breads that makes me go weak at the knees. What’s catches the eye is not just the bread, but bottles of jams that makes the mouth water, as well as a display of cheeses that would certainly complement the bread on offer. The artisan bread we were told are made using only French whole wheat flour, made from the endosperm of wheat grain, which besides being lower in protein and gluten, is higher in starch and has a distinct darker colour – giving the breads a rich flavour and colour, of which we had a sample of, along with a selection of colourful and uniquely flavoured macaroons, all of which did not disappoint.

Bakerzin Artisan Bread offers a range of hard crusted European styled breads that makes me go weak at the knees.

A range of cheeses is also on offer at the Bakerzin Artisan Bread outlet ...

... along with a range of jams ...

From European styled breads, we moved to a Mediterranean inspired deli, Gastronomia Da Paolo. There we met with Marina, who having just arrived from the fashionable city of Milan, had to deal with a whole bunch of hungry bloggers. The deli, which stocks essentials for Italian cooking including pasta, olive oil, and even wine, all sourced directly from Italy (it helps that Marina’s father knows the suppliers), aslo serves a selection of pizza and pasta, as well as sandwiches … perfect for a quick and tasty bite – or to pack for a picnic. We had selection of pizza to sample, just how I like my pizza, thin crust and loaded with toppings. My favourite was the Salmon pizza with its wonderful flavour derived from a complement of pesto. To top that off, Italian bubbly in the form of Prosecco was served and the short visit to the deli was completed with a a wonderful Tiramisù, made with rich Valrhona chocolate and Mascarpone cheese.

Marina of Gastronomia Da Paolo.

A little slice of heaven ... loved the taste of the pesto that went with the Smoked Salmon Pizza!

I liked the Salami Pizza too!

Prosecco ... Italian bubbly being poured ....

... certainly complemented the food on offer ...

Couldn't resist the Tiramisù ... made with rich Valrhona chocolate and Mascarpone cheese ...

... and neither could Cherie ...

Moving up, we moved to Old Hong Kong Taste, part of the Old Hong Kong Group of restaurants started by Victoria Li, a resident in Singapore who is from Hong Kong. Her motivation was to bring a taste of the real Hong Kong to Singapore which she and some of her fellow Hong Kongers felt was missing from Singapore. In Old Hong Kong one will find a rich selection of traditional Hong Kong dishes and new age ones that have been adapted from the old taste of Hong Kong. The decor and accompanying porcelain of the restaurant was carefully selected to reflect the location – with a garden theme with butterflies for the setting of a garden – Serangoon Garden … We had a taste of the amazingly tender Flaming Kurobuta Pork with Danggui Sauce, something that seemed to melt in one’s mouth together with the rich sauce that surprising isn’t bitter, but accompanied the juicy pieces of Kurobuta pork excellently. The second item we tasted was a fusion of tastes, the Deep Fried Prawn with Durian Paste and Maltesers that went very well together …. we were told that the restaurant is particularly well patronised during the weekends and also serves a selection of Dim Sum, and reservations are recommended …

Flaming Kurobuta Pork with Danggui Sauce ...

The tender and succulent pieces of Kurobuta Pork seemed to just melt in my mouth ...

Deep Fried Prawn with Durian Paste and Maltesers (yes, you read right!) ....

The last stop on the culinary adventure was Chinta Manis, or Sweet Love … and for those with a love of the sweet Nonya cakes, the Chinta Manis Peranakan Patisserie is a must visit. The third of three stores in Singapore, the so called Patisserie aims to please with a selection of good hand-made Nonya kueh-kueh, in which traditional methods are employed, as well as of Western styled cakes. We had a taste of the very interesting Chendol Agar Agar – a layered combination of the different flavours of Chendol into a piece of jelly … not the Chendol I am used to, but one that I can certainly take to, as well as of the Chocolate Ecstasy Cake … rich and moist and made from Valrhona chocolate – enough to send one into chocolate heaven … It was a perfect way I guess to end the evening … and with the intimate knowledge that I am now equipped with of some of what is on offer at the new mall … it does look like, barely into the second quarter of the year, it would be a tough ask for me to keep my New Year’s resolution to shed a few pounds … for yet another year …

Chinta Manis is located in the Basement of myVillage.

Chinta Manis offers a selection of hand-made Nonya Kueh ...

one of my favourites ... Kueh Dadar ...

Sambal Udang ... or Lemper Udang ... another of my all time favourites.

The very rich Chocolate Ecstasy Cake ...

Paramount revisited

23 02 2011

It has been a while since I visited Serangoon Garden. It had been a place that I visited frequently for a time, when the residential estate had a more laid back feel to it. It was just after we had moved to nearby Ang Mo Kio that my family started frequenting “Gardens” as we referred to it, with there being an NTUC supermarket that was probably closest to the new Ang Mo Kio which was starting life as a HDB estate at the end of the 1970s, where my mother could make her weekly visits to the supermarket. The weekly visits would bring us in touch with some of the existing institutions in the area: Chomp Chomp for one, and the already well known NIB second hand bookshop being another. That also brought us in touch with Paramount Theatre, which by that time seemed to wear a shabby and tired appearance.

The second hand book shop NIB was an institution in Serangoon Garden (image source: NLB Straits Times online archive).

The NIB bookshop was a particular favourite of my families, and the weekly visits always included a visit to the bookshop, where second hand books – most of which were in excellent condition could be effectively rented or bought at very affordable prices. I got most of my supply of books through my teens this way and most would remember the shelves and racks that lined the five foot way at the side of the shop that ran along Portchester Avenue, leading up to the barber shop and the ramp up to the car park of the building in which the NTUC supermarket was located. The shop itself was particularly packed – with a few racks filled with stories through which the ladies could live their romantic fantasies out ….

The Paramount and the row of shops at Maju Avenue leading up to the corner shop where NIB was located (Source: http://jalankayutrail.blogspot.com).

The Paramount right at the other end of Maju Avenue which together with NIB, would have made an appearance some time in the 1960s, would have offered more than that – with many catching popular movies there in the good old days of hard PVC seats in single screen cinemas, steamed peanuts and sweetcorn, and chinagraph scrawled coloured ticket stubs. I can’t say that I have watched a movie there, preferring to catch my movies in the bigger screens down town, but I do well remember the cinema. That went in 1983, shutting down as cinemas found it hard to cope with the appearance of movies on videotapes. The cinema soon found an alternative use, being converted into a Fitzpatrick’s supermarket in 1984 shortly before before the chain was bought over by Cold Storage. And when Cold Storage closed the outlet in 1985, that coincided with the period of my life when I was caught up with the transition to adulthood, and so I stopped my regular visits to Serangoon Garden, although my parents still frequented the area. The Paramount later became the Serangoon Garden Village complex which featured a DBS bank as well as some F&B outlets.

Another shot of Paramount (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

The old seen on the new, an image of the former Paramount Theatre projected onto the façade of the new myVillage, developed by Chye Lee and Sons Pte Ltd which is headed by two sons of the former owner of the Paramount.

It was perhaps coincidental that whilst a few were reminiscing about the old Paramount that I received an invitation to the grand opening of myVillage, a new development on the site of the former Paramount. What is interesting about it is that the developers of myVillage, Chye Lee and Sons Pte Ltd, is headed by Edmund and Edward Chye, whose father had owned the Paramount Theatre (the company was responsible for Serangoon Garden Village as well). While it does not bring back the old Paramount and some of the institutions that many residents of Serangoon Garden might have some nostalgia for, the development does provide a link to the past, at the same time bringing a modern mall concept to the area, similar to what has become popular in many other residential neighnourhoods.

myVillage brings a modern mall into the heart of Serangoon Garden.

The grand opening of myVillage on 20 February 2011 featured a carnival and was graced by Mrs Lim Hwee Hwa, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance and Transport, MP for Aljunied GRC.

Some in the crowd were invited to draw laser graffiti on the facade of myVillage together with Mrs Lim.

Laser graffiti that was drawn.

The crowd at the grand opening.

Press release:

myVillage: An Orchard Road experience in the suburbs

Singapore – With city centre packed with tourists, discerned locals are seeking premium suburban alternatives to avoid commuting to the city area for a good meal and relaxed weekend. Home-grown developer Chye Lee & Sons, has planned for a curated suburban retail experiences with myVillage at Serangoon Garden which opens officially on 20th February.

According to Singapore Tourism Board, tourists arrivals have increased 20.7% this year, with a total of 10.5 million visitors to Singapore during January to November 2010. With such record tourists figures, locals are opting to spend their weekends in suburban malls. To cater for the shoppers who are weary of Orchard crowds, suburban malls are stepping up and creating specialty retail experiences.

“We wanted something that our regulars could relate to and also a curated retail experience,” Edmund Chye stated. “Being nearer to the residents, we knew from the consumer research conducted that they were looking for two things, high retail standards and the individuality that Serangoon Garden is known for.”

This approach was the reason that myVillage currently boasts a tenancy rate of 99%, with huge interest even before the developers started marketing the mall in 2009.

In this gem of a mall, patrons can grab a quick bite at Da Paolo Gastronomia, pick up groceries from Fairprice Finest and enjoy European and Japanese-French country-style bread at Bakerzin Artisan Bread, a new-to-market brand that will open soon in myVillage.

“We were initially looking for a shophouse unit for our first Bakerzin Artisan Bread outlet as we did not want our new brand to be in an impersonal mall,” Mr Daniel Tay, Chief Executive Officer at Bakerzin, said. “myVillage was perfect as it has the best of both worlds.”

In a consumer research done in 2009 by Consulus, regional brand consultancy, the annual average income of patrons from the primary (Serangoon Garden and Serangoon North) and secondary (Kovan, Hougang and Braddell Heights) geographical areas, was $61,634 and $73,405 respectively, compared to Singapore’s overall average of $52,350 (according to IRAS Annual survey 2009).

“The patrons of myVillage are discerning shoppers who appreciate a more curated experience,” Lawrence Chong, Director for Strategy Development at Consulus, said.

To make sure myVillage was appealing to the affluent community, almost $1,000 per sq foot was spent to build and fit-out the complex, an amount comparable to ION Orchard.

“The developers were fully committed to pushing the boundaries in designing this experience, from the selection of tenants to choosing the right fittings and creating the brand story. It has been as intense as developing a mall along Orchard road,” Chong said.

Tenants cited the coziness of the mall as an attractive characteristic for their units. Residents can pause for a foot massage, drop off their laundry and have a coffee while waiting. With Beyond Beauty opening in mid-March, visitors will be able to enjoy nail and spa treatments close to their homes.

“Organic Basic provides homely and personal service and myVillage is a place that we feel at home in and that enables us to build friendships with the residents,” Tracy Lim, Director at Organic Basic, said, whose myVillage outlet is the brand’s first flagship store.

Current dining options include Japanese grill by Shin Kushiya and Chinese favourites at Old Hong Kong Taste, with Relish by Wild Rocket completing the offerings with Western comfort food when it opens. Other dining options opening soon are Daikokuya and Sweet Spring.

Familiar brands like Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Subway, Wang Cafe, Feisiong, Old Chang Kee, Oishii Bakery, Each-a-cup and Jollibean have populated the basement level of myVillage.

New food concepts by local food brands include Obolo Estudio and Berrylite.

myVillage will officially open its doors on Sunday, 20 February with a homecoming carnival for families and friends. All are invited to come in their casual best, let down their hair and do crazy things like eat on beds and use pots and pans as target practice.

The carnival, called myVillage Affair, will begin at noon at the mall and along Maju Avenue. Shoppers can look forward to games with attractive prizes. Radio personality and Serangoon Garden resident Daniel Ong will emcee the event live from 5 to 9 pm, while Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance and Transport, MP for Aljunied GRC, will join the festivities at 7 pm as the guest of honour. The carnival will end with a bang at 8 pm with a laser graffiti on the facade of myVillage and a confetti snowstorm.

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