Onaka: conscious eating

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Disclaimer: This is based on a food tasting session organised by Onaka Restaurant Team and HungryGoWhere.

Nestled deep in the western reaches of our island is a quiet refuge for health food lovers and diners with specific food allergies/preferences ranging from gluten intolerance to vegetarianism. Speaking to General Manager, Rosalind Lim, ONAKA, short for Optimum Nutrition and Kitchen Arts, was started in 2008, sparking off from a major lack of choice of foods for children growing up with allergies. Speaking passionately about her efforts to begin a wave of conscious and mindful eating where guests can relinquish in the true flavors of the food though it's aroma, texture, taste and selection of ingredients. Hence here at ONAKA, low glycemic foods are promoted, super foods are prominent and dedication to use all natural ingredients is evident.

Now, I'm going to call it as it is. My experience with Onaka was phenomenal. I came with the least of expectations and walked out of the same door dissolving soul food, my well-being fed by the convictions of the ONAKA team to provide change via mindful and healthy food options. So if you're like me, an unsuspecting individual, and highly doubtful, do give it a try and I'm convinced you'll come to love it as I do.

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Onaka carries a range of bottled fruit juices which are cleverly used for catering sensibilities. From Alain Milliat, these juices respect the unique characteristics of each fruit and are only harvested at it's peak of maturity hence giving consumers the optimal prospective of consuming the fruit at its best. Sure enough, my heart was stolen by the Strawberry nectar, rich in sediments with the unprocessed flavors of the plumpest wild strawberries you can find; it was akin to encapsulating a thousand berries in a bottle.

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Dinner came off to sceptical start with the signature Watermelon Sashimi, delicate slices of watermelon sous vide with kombu, wasabi roe (set with agar agar), served with a daikon and tamari (gluten free soy sauce) dressing on the side. Employing so many modern molecular gastronomy techniques in this dish, I was impressed by the dish's presentation and fascinated even more by how theses porous slices of sweet melon could resemble tuna so much in terms of appearance, unyielding to the manhandling by my unshaven chopstick skills. Eaten together with the dressing, things made sense.

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Nicoise Paper Roll: fresh tuna, cucumber, french beans, herbed egg salad, dehydrated olives and aioli. Dressed to impress with some spring themed micro greens and edible flowers strewed on the white empty canvas of a plate, this dish tasted every part the image it portrayed. Teasing the palate especially with dallop of "aioli" on the side, made only from tofu. Honestly, I couldn't tell the difference.

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Tofu-Avo Salad Loved the entire Asian inspired salad, the soy brined tofu adding a unusual texture to the mixture. And we all know that avocado does it for me.

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Chef jason Vito giving us an introduction to the "Noodles and Grains" section of the tasting session.

Due to poor pacing and a massive hunger attack towards the forward portion of the evening, I was regretfully stuffed by the time the carbs were served. I tried whatever I could and politely denied the rest (much to my dismay again later that night). Out of the 4 dishes we sampled, the Maritime Barley Risotto was by far my favourite, who would have known that barley could soak up all that flavor of the crustacean broth so well? the barley grains plump and chewy unlike the starchy overcooked mush one would associated with the sediments of homemade barley water. The lime foam (apparently, the onaka kitchen team are big on siphoned foams as inclusions to their dish architecture) adding a sour break to the heavy make-up of the dish. clever...

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the other carbs for the night: Chilli Crab Capellini, served with crab cake, house-made chilli crab sauce and all this rounded up with a perfectly poached egg on top.

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The healthy version of a Pineapple Rice which didn't taste half bad considering that organic brown rice and organic quinoa were wholly used in this dish. The use of carrot juice and roasted pineapples adding moisture to the dish in replacement to the copious amounts of oil used to coat each grain of rice in the usual suspect. A surmountable effort put a regular dish.

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last but not least, the Mushroom Soba, roasted mushroom ragu, buckwheat soba, mushroom dashi. This dish did not float my boat, I guess I'm just prejudiced against soba or perhaps the dish's one-noted deliverance with the lingering woody aroma of chinese mushrooms clinging to the air. Not a big fan.

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For the carnivores, ONAKA carry a special selection of proteins that would leave you thirsting for more. Let's dive down to details shall we.

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One of the must-orders here is the Miso Lamb, slow cooked for an agonising 24hours, no time is wasted here as the results showcase a perfectly rendered and moist piece of carved lamb with an even marbling of fats thrown in for good measure. The flavors were exactly spot on, but mostly the texture and the lusciousness of the lamb just left me in constant debate as to leap for another piece despite the fierce scrutiny from my fellow diners. I'm sorry if I've offended anyone in the midst.

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48HR beef with red wine reduction also prepared via means of sous vide. can't remember much about the dish apart from the pumpkin mash which was divine.

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Modernist Chicken Curry v2.0. The emphasis is on how the chicken is

  1. Corn-fed
  2. Free-range = happy chickens
  3. Antibiotic and hormone free

contrary to the comments of my neighbours. I loved this dish. The creamy aerated sweet potatoes blending well with the sour tang of the chicken curry, enhanced only by the thin layer of lime foam suspended over the dish. Not a pretty sight once the liquids start flowing around the surface of the shallow dish but I kept mum and feasted on the lovely bits of green okra and succulent chicken. Not much competition there. *phew*

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First and last on the agenda (we had an encore for this) is the Duck Pancake, a work of a genius undeniably. turmeric crepes wrapped around warm crispy skin duck confit infused with five spice and drizzle with an orange caramel sauce. Sweet, savoury and crispy, a dynamic interfusion of flavors and textures that led to somewhat a 'mind-blowing' experience. This dish shall and will be on my list of "Best dishes savoured in 2013".

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The night came to a close with desserts, the Banana Pastillas was in this context, a mean portion to tackle. But still, me and my partner managed in style. Cinnamon roasted bananas wrapped in phyllo pastry and served with berries, maple syrup, walnuts, banana and the most luscious cardamon ice cream.

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The Avo Choco Emotions is the Onaka's solution to a healthy dessert. And truth be told, it is a near sinless version of a mousse dessert, whereby no eggs yolks are used, neither cream nor gelatine. Instead, Valrhona Equatorial 55% dark chocolate is used in a water-based mousse (things we learn in pastry school.. bah!), poured into a siphon and then charged with NO2 cartridges. Pressurized, the air within the chocolate mousse expands to produce some sort of a aerated structure which is then discharged into glasses and topped up with a light avocado mousse. Surprisingly the combination works out like magic. The acidity of the chocolate used, toned down by the richness of the slightly sweetened avocado mousse.

As I've re-iterated before, Onaka has certainly set the bar high even for itself. With a perseverance for the cause to introduce conscious and mindful eating to the public, workload significantly increases since most sauces have to made from scratch in-house. However, efforts have paid off ten-fold with flavorsome fare and artfully decorated plates. Let's pay homage to theses guys, they sure deserve a pat on the backs.

A gentle reminder to please take part in my first {GIVEAWAY}, details are mentioned in my previous blog post here!

Onaka Restaurant & Wine Bar @ARC
460 Alexandra Road
#01-32. PSA Building
Singapore 119963

Tel: 6270 2012
Website: http://www.onakafoods.com/

{GIVEAWAY} Food Panda: The Mexican fiesta and a Giveaway

Recently, I had the fortune of doing a write-up for a food delivery service which had launched its domain in quite rampant attack in Singapore. Started off in Berlin, the small team had the intention to provide an all-rounded service and the most powerful online tool for food delivery in the universe (Love their ambitiousness). At present, the team has expanded to cover more grounds; namely, 15 more countries in a just a few short few months!

Here in Singapore, Food Panda has managed to rope in a staggering 129 food outlets to collaborate with, consisting of quite a few Indian restaurants, Mexican joints and some other more exciting establishments like Chilis, Outback Steak House and more. With this figure constantly on the rise, I was sure spoilt for choice when it came to deciding on a single establishment to satiate my hunger. Having secured an in-house dinner companion for the lovely Sunday evening, I proceeded to order for the both of us.

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Honestly, navigating the system couldn't be any more foolproof. Steps are as documented on the site. Upon entry into the site, you are prompted to key in the postal address of your current locality so that the servers can rank and better isolate the food providers nearest to you (hence resulting in shorter delivery times). After that is done, go ahead and pick from the wide array of choices of restaurants and browse its menu even! Save for my whims for Mexican food that night, I surely would have been lost debating my choices that night. Fresh Baja it was.

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Upon confirming and submitting my order (Hit the button 'ORDER NOW', and payment can be made via cash upon delivery or paypal!); I was hit by a barrage of messages (SMSes and emails, two pronged attacks), containing the legit details of my payment confirmation, order receipts and all. How assuring... despite it's excessive nature. I received a call shortly that really took the icing off the cake. From a Gavin from the Food Panda team, the call was a verbal confirmation of my order and a query regarding my queer message to be given notice should the order be delivered earlier to my doorstep instead of the stipulated 1.5hr as suggested on the site. He took to explaining that a window of 30mins should be allowed given that the pre-orders were taken before the kitchens open for dinner hence leaving them questionable to food delivery times should there be and influx of pre-orders coming in. The level of commitment to provide a smooth food delivery from Food Panda was sure looking very impressive at this point of time. All even before I took my first whiff of the food!

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Sadly, the night's arrangement met with a slight hiccup when my dining companion called off the appointment, leaving me stranded with an enormous surplus of food on my hands. Imagine my disappointment delight, when I found out that I was being left alone with all that Mexican fiesta of a meal after a tedious heartbreak (don't ask) on a lonely Sunday evening. Things couldn't possibly get any better.

The wait for the food ensued, and sure enough, the food arrived in a little over an hour. Packed neatly into bags and containers of different sizes, unwrapping all these was similiar to a Christmas day. I ordered the Chicken Grande Quesadilla ($20) and Char Siu (pork) Baja Burrito ($20) for tasting. To my delight, both turned up spiffingly hot at my doorstep. the former with accompaniments of sour cream and homemade guacamole on the side.

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The Char Siu Baja Burrito was more to my liking, the succulent braised pork amidst it's wrap with freshly sliced lettuce, pico de gallo (salsa fresca), a dallop of guacamole and all that melted Monterey jack cheese plastered warm flour tortilla. The orchestra of flavors creating a blanket of warmth, one that I familiarise myself with only on my single rest day in the week. The same can't be said about the Chicken Quesadilla, the char-grilled chicken hidden below the pressed tortilla in stingy portions and to make matters worse, parched dry. I was not a happy camper with this one. That aside, the dips that came with the tortilla chips were excellent. Though barely unrecognisable to me, I singled out some sort of olive tapenade, another red pepper type dip amongst the riot of flavors and colors.

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In all honesty, this isn't probably the best representation of Mexican food you can get around here. To satisfy your Mexican cravings, turn to Piedra Negra at Haji Lane or head on down to MexOut for their fabulous cochinta pibil corn tacos.

Food Panda, as a food delivery service however has sure knocked my socks off. Offering a staggering selection of food establishments, one can be sure of finding something appropriate for that stay-in Sunday or that small office party. Takeaways have never been so convenient nor flavoursome.

Feeling like staying in tonight with some take-away Indian food? Take a break with me and enter this sweet Food Panda Giveaway for a chance to win a $30 voucher for online payment via PayPal. Note, I will only be giving away one voucher which can be used easily on your next intended Food Panda delivery! Omar Shariff's Indian food is calling my name. But maybe you'll be more enticed by the ribs from Outback Steakhouse? Either way, I'm glad I don't have to choose.

To enter, just leave a comment on this post with your name and email (button is right below the date of blog post on the top left corner) just above answering the following question.

  • What's your favourite take-out cuisine? (Thai, western, Chinese, etc...)
  • Which restaurant would you like to try at Food Panda Singapore?

Deadline to enter is Friday, May 31st, at 8:00pm (Singapore time) Time's Up! Winner is announced below. 1 winner will be chosen at random and announced sometime Friday on this post. Stay tuned folks!


The winner is #5. Congratulations to AnAn, you are getting that $30 cashback voucher courtesy of Food Panda! Will contact you soon regarding the details. Thank you all for participating!

The Ascot: Cures for a hangover

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It's the long weekend, parties and copious amounts of drinking seems inevitable to most.

Suffering from a hangover? Hydrate first and then follow a couple of recommended moves from the honeycombers blog. As for me, here's what I suggest... drink some more, and you'll actually trick your body into thinking it's narrowly escaped a hangover despite the stellar action the night before. Over at The Ascot @ The Grandstand, that's exactly what I did over the past weekend. Here's a toast to deluded quick exits from the realm of bad hangovers.

The Ascot is the newest kid on the block over at the Grandstand, opening its doors to the public mid way through February this year. Decked out in clean swept varnished floors and rustic furnishings, things have been kept simple and almost barren to mimic the unique English pub experience. I reckon that bit more empty standing space should serve its purpose with rowdy and extremely drunk English gentlemen to stagger around without breaking anything valuable in close vicinity. Owner, Sylvester, touted to always be decked out in his fedora hat stands behind the bar counter, looking extremely at ease amidst the slowly growing volume of customers packing the dining room, all in time for weekend lunch. After a quick chat, he steered me towards Badger's England's Own beer, perhaps it was the peculiar head-spinning motion, but I was easily sold on the notion that MORE beer would do me better after a hard nights' worth of drinking. One sip and the sentiment was set in stone, floral, with nuances of elderflower and white grape, this went down smoothly, easing me furthermore into the sinful weekend. With an enthusiastic reaffirmation of his choice, Sylvester turned to me with somewhat of a triumphant smirk and chugged the remaining golden elixir in his chilled pint. Boy was I not surprised.

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the view from the bar-counters where we plonked ourselves quietly in anticipation for our meal. Apparently, not too many people settle on the high stools but I do think the communal settings encourage a bit more interaction, something quintessential to an English pub. This was clearly evident given our mini-conversations with the father and daughter team at the end of the bar and the two blokes who marveled at the sight of the Yorkshire pudding when it got served

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Back to the food, we had the Sunday Roast ($28.00) and A Bunch of Bangers ($20.00). The former was sure a sight for sore eyes and my stomach growled in envious contention. The immaculately glazed ribs were the star of the dish, fall of the bone and extremely rich in flavor, this went down perfectly well with the Yorkshire pudding. The latter dish, my dish, or Bangers and mash was a considerably above average version, comprising of 3 different sausages, namely veal, pork and Garlic and thyme, these were salty, yes, but oh-so-good for that indulging in hand with a cold pint of beer. The pool of onion gravy that had gathered beneath, melded perfectly with the perfumed mash (perfect texture in my opinion) and the glorious bubble and squeak served on the side. I'm not too ashamed to say that I lapped up all that brown goodness with the help of a hefty knife and a healthy appetite.

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Perhaps it was just me and my spot-on cravings for pub grub that very day but in all honesty, I'm sold. The Ascot stealing my heart and unearthing some very raw genuine affection. Scoring highly on my cards for it's traditional British cuisine served in a unpretentious and warm environment, I would certainly be back for more.

The Ascot
The Grandstand
200 Turf Club Road
Singapore 287994
Tel: +65 64620881

Esquina: I concur

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Esquina which means "the corner" in spanish sure has taken Singaporean foodies on a whirlwind journey with its raging publicity actions and the multiple accolades shrouding this hole-in-the-wall tapas joint. With the kitchen run by Jason Atherton, protege to Michelin starred chef Gordon Ramsey working together with acclaimed hotelier and restauranteur Loh Lik Peng (who directs New Majestic Hotel and Wanderlust); it's no wonder the place has managed to receive a massive overnight success.

Facts aside, Esquina does impress first-timers and regulars alike with it's funky,coveted and underground vibes. Steel bar stools fashioned from manhole covers and a gorgeous long open kitchen that surprisingly had the voice controls tightly modulated leave diners feeling exclusive, special for just being part of the dinner service. Littered with people from a particular walk of life, namely the high-fliers with their gorgeously tailored dresses and IWC Schaffhausen watches peeping out from the cuffs of their casual after-work wear; one can't help but feel a little intimidated. Still, the drifting smells arising from amidst the vigour in the kitchens worked wonders in heightening my anticipation for the works of art that lay ahead.

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Ordered the Sangria ($13.50) as my first stop to the start of an indulgent meal. I was surprised by its innovative presentation. Wine with the berry foam siphoned on the top instead of the conventional cubes of fruits stirred in. A little too swanky for my liking in all honesty.

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After perusing and scrutinising our panoply of choices off the menus, we decided on a few dishes that the both of us leaned towards. Squid, Gamabas and Chorizo Paella, Gremolata ($23), delicious in all its rights with the plump grains of rice laden full of savoury goodness from the stock it was cooked in, the pieces of seafood cooked to perfection; only spoiler had to be the proclamation from my dining companion that the paella from Bomba was much better (we'll leave that to another time).

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Next up, the Roasted beef short rib, cauliflower and cumin cous cous, burnt cauliflower puree ($27) which apparently was a wrong order that got served up to our table. Note that service can be quite stodgy at Esquina, apart from the fantastic maitre'd that hosted us upon arrival; the rest of it can be a bit interspersed. Think repeated orders for a glass of chardonnay and 10 minute waits for menus... Returning back to the dish, this was technically a champion of a delivery. Fall off the bone short rib, the light dusting of dehydrated cauliflower and powdered cous cous providing a contrasting crunch to each tender bite. One of my favourites of the night. And despite the silent miscommunication of a blunder that occurred; we were not billed for the item nor approached by any of the staff regarding it. Not that I have any complaints about it...

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Roast pork belly, bacon and onion dashi broth, coriander and prawn dumplings, seaweed salad ($26), a mediocre dish that combined the likes of one of favourite cuts of meat with the spring likeness of its broth. Love the smokiness of the bacon in the dashi broth, however I felt that the construction of the dish could have dealt better with a different choice of protein.

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Salt & Pepper Squid with Black Ink Aioli ($17), from first looks, a pretty impressive staple to have at the Esquina, they've got the frying techniques down, however, the black ink aioli tasted pretty much like any regular aioli except for the mysterious black that had muddled it's creamy core. Not a dish I would go for since I feel it's regularity is not worth the exquisite price tag. A dish I would recommend however is the elusive Spanish breakfast ($16), slow cooked egg, bravas sauce tossed with crisp potatoes and a shard of crispy iberico ham. the amalgam of flavors and textures with contrasting serving temperatures made for one orgasmic experience and I was left speechless and preciously concurred towards the success of the Esquina solely based on the performance of its food after this dish.

We left the establishment a $150.35 poorer after the meal. I suppose a poor pastry chef like me can't afford dining experiences like this very often but still, once in a while won't hurt.

Esquina Tapas Bar
16 Jiak Chuan Lane
(No Reservations)
website: http://esquina.com.sg/
Weekdays: 12pm - 3pm | 6pm - 11pm
Sat: 6pm - 11pm

The Fat Cat Bistro: It's a sticky situation

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The night at Fat Cat Bistro unfolded in usual fashion, starting with a pint of Stella Artois draft for me. The proceedings of the nights' food tasting bearing its optimistic light on my fairly empty stomach and growing hunger pangs.

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throughout the night, drinks flowed freely as did the light-hearted conversations around the table. With settings similar to that of a coffee shop albeit with the mojitos, draft beers and other cocktails doing it's merry rounds, this encouraged a communal and very intimate setting. Very suitable for small group gatherings or even family meals. Just be mindful that the place is open-air meaning that things can get a little sticky around here so dress appropriately for the occasion, dress light. Guys, don't bring your dates here should she be decked out in a thick sheath of make-up unless you're hoping to end the night with a big fight of sorts. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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From the start, service was efficient, friendly; and given that our food was coming from 3 separate kitchens, the dishes soon piled up at our table. No amount of speedy eating could have dealt with the problem. Starters consisted of Crispy Pork Ribs ($12 for 5 pieces) and Thai Mango Salad ($10) from the Thai kitchen; the former was very well received by the group of us, crispy yet deliciously juicy on the inside, this was a delight to eat even sans the chili dressing. The mango salad on the other hand was average, the balance of sour, sweet, salty and spicy could have been better fine tuned.

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The Goat's Cheese Salad ($10), representative of the Western kitchen (The French Onion) was a surprising winner as well with it's generous serving of lightly grilled cheese with mixed leaves tossed in a light coating of french dressing.

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But the clear winner in the starters category were the Mantra Wings ($8 for 6 pieces) from Masala Mantra. Fried to perfection, these golden wings were perfect snacks to go along with the multitude of drinks available at the bar. The light use of Indian spices in the marination adding a bit of kick to the overall addictive experience. Note, the many pairs of eyes around the table that trailed the disappearance of the wings at lightning speeds. *sweats*

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Green Curry Chicken ($11)

With respect to mains, I honestly lost track at some point of time with the flurry of dishes greeting our tables. Gaping mouths and gregarious laughter filling the empty spaces between the endless feastings. A few of my personal favourites were the Saag Paneer ($12) and the Mutton Vindaloo Curry ($12), pity that the naans we used to mop up the curries lacked fluffiness and the authenticity of those that have come out straight from the tandoor. Constraints of a coffee shop kitchen.. Another would be the green curry (perhaps which was still passable), my take on the Thai food served from Thai Yai (the thai food stall) seemed to lean more on the sweet side, a strange trend that spreads across all its representative items for the night.

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Saag Paneer($12)

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Sea Bass with bell pepper sauce

Offerings from the Western kitchen that night included the Australian Tenderloin and Seas Bass. Not too suitable for sharing, I was a tad biased against these dishes for that reason alone. That aside, flavors were faultless and portion sizes were decently priced. However, I just didn't find the surroundings suitable for the service of such foods.

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Australian Tenderloin

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The desserts made their mini parades soon after everyone made a declaration to have been stuffed to the brim. I chose the Mango Sticky Rice over the rest since that again seemed to be the most suitable for sharing. Served with dried shards of coconut, that added a refreshing sweet bite to the otherwise monotonous dish with only soft and chewy left to describe it. This rendition was well executed with the glutinous rice cooked to a nice doneness and that sweetened coconut milk drizzled generously over. The Chocolate lava cake possessed a very unnatural sweet flavor probably hailing from the use of cheap compound chocolate within but I'm sure the less finicky would happily settle for this dish.

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The Fat Cat is definitely a hidden find, a casual bistro set up in the tranquil settings of the Jalan Riang stretch. Winged by a throng of great eateries of diverse representations, The Fat Cat does serve its purpose of delivering food to groups of people with conflicting needs at decent prices. Not bad indeed for a gathering of indecisive people.

The Fat Cat Bistro
15 Jalan Riang
Tel: 62855178
Website: http://www.thefatcat.com.sg/

Pasta Brava: stick with it

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Dining in Pasta Brave, you would half expect an Italian Mafia to storm out from the depths of the hidden rooms beyond the walls, Tommy guns in hand, creating a din. Yes, Pasta Brava does carry a truly authentic Italian family diner atmosphere. Albeit a bit old fashioned but charming in its own rights.

We ravelled the night with two starter dishes, the Sformato di melanzane alla parmigiana (I hope I got that right) ($15) - oven glazed slices of egg plant with tomato sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella and the Bruschetta al pomodoro e bascillico ($6). The former dish, I got to try since I wasn't that big on Bruschetta; it was lovely with tender eggplant smothered in a fresh layer of cheese and homemade tangy tomato sauce; admittedly a bit pricey for it's portion but still a great way to kick start the evening. The glass of house wine joined in the party shortly after. Don't judge. I can't resist.

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Moving on, our choice of entrees sure filled us to the brim. Pappardella al ragu d'anatra con funghi ($23) - pappardella with ragout of duckling and mushrooms and his Filetto di manzo al Gorgonzola ($31) - pan fried beef tenderloin flavoured with white wine, green peppercorn and mozzarella. Having tried the pappardella dish before, it sure maintained its' standards, delicious shreds of slow-cooked duck draped in a rich tomato sauce punctured with the earthiness of braised mushrooms. I did and always will love this dish. The beef tenderloin was pounded and cooked to perfection, and that cheese infused sauce with green peppercorns..magnifico.

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All in all, Pasta Brava Italian Restaurant offers a safe and GOOD option for those seeking an Italian treat. With a steady following and a long standing history of placement in the area, Pasta Brava does have a proud reputation; so remember to make your reservations should you be intending to visit!

Pasta Brava
11 Craig Road Singapore
Tel: +65 6227 7550