Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tony Roma's: Ribs for Birthday!

I know that I'm way under-qualified to consider myself old, but I have been toning down birthdays hoo-has over the years especially when the number 23 seems odd to be celebrated. Furthermore, this year I spent most of the day under the burning sun in reservist so we only had a simple dinner out; a treat by the loving girlfriend!

With no reservations allowed, we had wanted to try Tony Roma's for the longest time ever but was always put off by the constant long queues on weekends. Thankfully, we didn't have to wait at all on a weekday evening while snugging a spacious booth seat.

Complimentary Bread

Served a la Swensens' fries, the mini baguette was nicely warmed with crunchy crust and pillow-ly soft within. I particularly liked the scoop of creamy garlic butter that almost tempted me for another loaf of baguette!

Half Onion Loaf ($9.90)

We never had a similar starter since the Bloomin Onions at Outback Steakhouse years ago, but this was absolutely the right choice! Fried to a golden brown, the onion stack was addictive on its own and remained crispy till the very last piece, nicely accompanied by the BBQ mayonnaise dip.

Mushroom Soup and Sunriser Add-on ($10.00)

Available with purchase of every ribs main course, the mushroom soup was chunky and flavourful, definitely an outstanding one in a long long time. The mocktail quencher, on the other hand, tasted artificially average.

Fish Fillet and Half Rack Ribs ($30.90)

If you leave without eating their ribs, you surely can't say that you have been to Tony Roma's! Pairing the ribs with their Blue Ridge Smokies sauce, it was no doubt tender and juicy with a nice charred flavour. However, it also lacked that magical touch that would separate it from good to awesome. The dory fish fillet was sadly boring as I secreted wished that I had chosen the shrimps combo instead.

On a bright note, quality of sides were very worth a mention. The baked potato came with a hearty dose of sour cream, bacon and cheddar bits that made it as sinful as it sounded. I know corn are just corn, but the one I had was amazingly plump, succulent and sweet. Heavy plus points!

Salmon Piccata ($27.90)

The girlfriend had her preferred choice of seafood, decently done but nothing mind-blowing. Came with hot fries and a coleslaw that was a tad too raw for our liking.

We didn't have their desserts but instead, the girlfriend surprised me with a chocolate pear tart from Perla's Pastry Boutique. Rich and smooth, it was a good alternative to the usual birthday cakes!

Bill for two was $92.65 after taxes. Tony Roma's was satisfying on the overall but I thought it didn't quite justify the long queues. But if there is a next visit, onion loaves, ribs and corns will definitely be on the order list!

Tony Roma's
3 Temasek Boulevard #B1-007
Suntec City Mall
Tel: (65) 6337 9055

Taken with Nikon D70
Sunday, July 24, 2011

O'Coffee Club: 1 for 1 Deals!

We all love the Great Singapore Sale, don't we? Not only are fashion labels on sale, food places are also busy rolling out promotions to bump up sales. Not sure if you have noticed, quite a few coffee chains had been rolling out 1-for-1 deals during this period. TCC, House of Robert Timms and the one I ate at, O'Coffee Club!

Now while it didn't occur to me that the brand had removed the "Express" and added an "O'", their food menu had certainly expanded since my last visit and now covers a wider range of snacks, mains and desserts. The outlet at Ngee Ann City was pretty popular on a Friday night as we waited awhile to get a window seat.

Mega Club Sandwich ($15.00)

The girlfriend was in the mood for bread and thus chose the biggest sandwich they could offer! With slices of smoked salmon, roasted chicken, cheddar cheese, eggs and a rather tangy mayonnaise sauce double decked between foccacia bread, we thought it was quite a mouthful and satisfying!

The sandwich also came with a small portion of refreshing greens, though there was much room for improvement for the lukewarm fries.

Lobster Bisque Baked Rice ($13.50)

Enticed by the prized crustacean, I went for this and its fragrance was immediately detected when the waiter served. The rice absorbed the rich broth well, delightful with the layer of baked cheese. Portion however, could really be bigger while the two half-shelled scallops were really too tiny to be noticed.

Gooey Chocolate Monkey Tart ($7.50)

Instead of going for their signature mud pie, we shared their new creation that had diced banana between a chocolate tart, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and drizzled with warm chocolate sauce. Completed the meal nicely!

Bill for two was $26.35 after taxes and promotion deduction. Pretty good deal as food quality was not compromised, though pasta might be a better choice over baked rice if you are feeling hungry. One more week before the offer ends!

O'Coffee Club
Outlets Islandwide
Check out their website for locations and partial menu!

Taken with Nikon D70
Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vita Lemon Tea & Tai Hing Milk Tea: Made in HK!

If you are familiar with Hong Kong's 茶餐厅 culture or have simply watched enough TVB dramas, you will know that Hong Kongers can't live without their Lemon Teas and Milk Teas. Although we have pretty close stuffs from the likes of Imperial Treasure and Kim Gary, there is still this slight gap that they couldn't close. Now we can have these classic HK drinks at home, one much more readily available than the other too!

Introducing Vita Lemon Tea! I almost jumped around like a kid when I finally saw these at NTUC Xtra. From the makers of the popular Vitasoy, their lemon tea taste very different from our local brands. The balance of tea and lemon is simply excellent and is not overloaded with artificial sweeteners, making every sip a refreshing one!

$4.95 for two packs

If you prefer your lemon tea with an even stronger tea flavour, then the Ceylon Lemon Tea will be good for you! Brewed with Ceylon tea leaves, this went well for my mom though I personally thought it was slightly leaning to the bitter end.

With no advertisements or any visible marketing efforts, I am not optimistic that Singaporeans knew of their existence or will be even willing to try them. So before NTUC decides not to restock them, I have already bought a stash for keeps!

Tai Hing Canned Milk Tea (~$1.50/can)

The Tai Hing group of restaurants in HK has gained popularity in the recent years for their quality roasts and smooth, rich milk tea. Now they have made it more convenient by packing the milk tea into cans! Not available in Singapore, I was lucky to have a HK friend bringing almost a carton of them over, which I now treasure and ration every can to make sure they could last until my next stockup. Definitely something to consider lugging back if you visit HK, let's hope they export it to our island soon!

My two favourite teas paired with Crystal Jade's Shrimp Paste Chicken and Red Bean Kaya Cream Puff. Sweet, savoury, shiok! Join me for high tea, anyone?

Vita Lemon Tea
Limited quantity available at NTUC Finest and NTUC Xtra
Be a fan of their Facebook page!

Tai Hing Milk Tea
Sold exclusively at Tai Hing restaurants and ParknShop supermarkets
Check out their company website and thier latest Milk Tea advertisement!

Taken with Nikon D70
Monday, July 18, 2011

Travel: Take Me To Tainan!

Photo Credit: TakeMeToTravel

As my schoolmate currently interns at TakeMeToTravel, I have been helping with her online content by contributing articles every now and then. And as it turned out, they organised an online contest that focused on food and travel experiences, so I submitted an entry to try my luck!

Mooo-licious Cow Tongue Biscuits @ Tainan, Taiwan

"Since young, my parents had always taught me: Don’t play with your food. But seriously, the girlfriend and I couldn’t resist posing for this shot in Taiwan.

While we were at their ancient capital city of Tainan (台南), we discovered a local pastry called 牛舌饼, literally meaning “Cow Tongue Biscuit”. These elongated biscuits were soft and chewy with a buttery aftertaste, some having additional flavours such as coffee or cheese. The ones in our mouth happened to taste of strawberry, further resembling the colour of a tongue. Now let’s look at this from a new viewpoint: If you can play and eat your food, why not?

Just don’t ask me to demonstrate french kissing with this please. That will be wrong parenting already."

If you think that deserves a thumbs-up, please show your support by liking the page!

Photos by Weiliang, during our first trip in 2009

Writing that entry did (yet again) bring back wonderful memories of the days in Taiwan. Tainan was a much smaller city than Taipei with a slower pace of life. The 安平古堡 counted as one of their must-visit attractions, with the fortress first built by the former Dutch colony masters, later home to the Chinese conqueror 郑成功 and then used by the Japanese as an observation post.

The nearby 延平老街 also sold many local specialties that were worth bringing back for family and friends. The cow tongue biscuits were only one of their many specialties, as pastries of all shapes and types were enticing us! By the way, the cow tongue biscuits in Tainan were a tad different from the variants in 宜兰, which would be more crunchy in texture.

Another of my favourite snacks there were the homemade egg rolls. Prepared and packed immediately before you, these were as fresh as they could get!

Each had a wonderful eggy aroma and crumbled easily by nibbling, as the light, creamy taste could easily spurred you on to eat a few more. Available at NT10 (SGD 50cents) each or in gift boxes, they would make excellent gifts but only if you were delicate enough to let it survive the plane ride back!

Note: The place can be a little troublesome to reach by public buses, but relatively cheap and fast if you hailed a cab from Tainan Train Station.

Lastly, a shameless final call for (perhaps my first and last in a popularity contest) my submission, do like the page if you well, like it!

Taken with Nikon D70
Thursday, July 14, 2011

Waroeng Penyet: Not Quite a Contender Yet

Ever since my friend introduced me to Ria Ayam Penyet a couple of years ago, I was hooked onto its fiery chilli and crispy batter until I need my fix of it every now and then. But I didn't have much ayam penyet experience outside the Ria brand, so its time to try Waroeng Penyet for a comparison!

Eating at its newer Liang Seah Street branch, I first heard of the brand when it started out at Marine Parade, as people raved about their chicken and such. The cheerful-looking eatery needed diners to fill up an order sheet and make payment at the counter before they send it to you. Thankfully I didn't have to wait too long for my meal as there were few other customers during my visit on a Saturday evening.

Ice Lemon Tea ($1.80)

Nicely sweetened, the thirst quencher was particularly refreshing with the addition of lime.

Coconut Rice ($1.00)

Given a choice of plain or coconut rice, I opted for the latter and pretty much liked its fragrance and fluffiness. A plus to go with your main!

Ayam Penyet ($6.00) Bawal Penyet ($6.50)

Here comes the lead! All the while that I have been eating ayam penyet, the chicken meat itself had never been the star as something this deep fried and smashed tend to be drier and tougher. Likewise, there was no surprise here as I spent quite a while chewing on the thigh meat.

That being said, the accompanying sides that were suppose to steal the show did nothing either. The chilli didn't pack as much punch while the batter flakes were lumpy and slight moist. Even the basic tofu and tempeh didn't feel as fresh.

Girlfriend chose the fish version that came with two smaller whole pomfrets, but nothing really stood out anyway.

Kangkong Belacan ($3.90), Siomay Bandung ($5.00)

Sharing some sides to go with the penyets, the kangkong's sauce was leaning to a pleasant sweet side, while the other, a kind of steamed mixed dumplings with peanut sauce, had potatoes, tofus and sticky fishcakes as its ingredients and didn't go well for me.

Price for two was $26.50 with no additional taxes. Admittedly, I wasn't too impressed with what I had but like some suggested, branches will never be quite the same as the original outlet. Perhaps I should head down to Marine Parade sometime soon but for now, Ria still triumphs!

Waroeng Penyet
1 Liang Seah Street
Tel: 63371452

Taken with Nikon D70
Monday, July 11, 2011

Imperial Treasure 香港之窗: Most Authentic Yet!

Finding a place to eat in town can be quite a hassle. On some days, I wouldn't want to fork out for a restaurant meal with all the taxes add-on, neither would I want to settle for overly-franchised food courts. Thankfully, I now have an affordable haunt at Somerset, the Imperial Treasure: Windows of HK!

Located at the little known 111 Somerset (previously known as SP Building, I think), the place was a (rather) new venture by the Imperial Treasure Group. Closely imitating the system of HK-style fast food restaurants, the menu for the day was displayed on a large board, which you then order from the counter and wait for it to be delivered to your table.

Iced Milk Tea ($1.70)

Well I guess you guys should know my judging criteria for such cafes by now. And the verdict is two no, three words: Very very authentic. Smooth, rich and suitably sweetened, this was as close as you could get to HK! Even the use of crushed ice fitted to a T. Well my sources told me that the tea chef hailed from the Cafe De Coral chain previously, so that explained the golden standards!

Four Treasure Rice ($6.50), Pork Ribs Winter Melon Soup ($2.50)

The treasures here referred to different selections from the roast corner, and I supposed you could add more treasures if you liked to! The tender charsiew was nicely roasted with a caramelised finishing and the soy sauce chicken was also very well marinated. A pity that my salted egg that day was rather dry and the squid slices were a tad tasteless. Portion was enough to fill me up though!

The soup of the day, on the other hand, was not worth the money. It was just average and came in a rather small bowl, as I subconsciously compared it to an identical one in NTU canteen at triple the volume and cheaper the price.

Hotplate Crispy Noodles with Chicken and Black Pepper Sauce ($9.00)

With a colourful presentation, the sauces sizzled as you poured it over the crunchy noodles. Juicy capsicum, onion and carrot slices accompanied the tender chicken bits. Good stuff!

I also returned on separate occasions to have the Seafood Baked Rice and Curry Beef Brisket Rice. Very satisfying!

Homemade Chilli Sauce

For those who like their food spicy, the in-house chilli sauce packed quite a punch, though I didn't think it had the XO touch.

Red Bean Ice

Part of the hotplate noodles meal, the classic HK dessert drink was creamy and nicely sweetened. Washed everything down well!

Bill for two was $19.70 without additional taxes. Paying exactly what you see on the menu, the place offered true-blue HK fast food at attractive prices, with portions and quality that I could identify with. My regular hangout for a quality cup of milk tea already!

Imperial Treasure: Windows of Hong Kong
TripleOne Somerset
Tel: 6732 8798

Taken with Nikon D70
Thursday, July 07, 2011

The “Jet-Lag” Singaporeans

Notice: This is a non-food, non-travel related post. Just a self reflection on certain values learnt during the Korean trip. Do ignore if the content does not interest you.

The 10 days in Korea were fascinating. Besides the memorable camp activities, my most treasured takeaway were the whole bunch of new-found friends from ASEAN nations and South Korea. However, despite the strong bonds formed, I have to lament that the bonds would have been even tighter if not for what I call, the “Jet Lag Singaporean Syndrome”.

For the first half of the camp, although the five of us had been split into different teams, we were nonetheless very cliquish and chose to hang out among ourselves whenever possible. For every break time, meal time or just a couple of spare minutes, our radars will zoom in to locate the nearest Singaporean and voila, gather and wander off somewhere by ourselves. All while the rest were busy making friends with one another.

One of the contributing factors to our seclusion was our habit of complaining. Admittedly, the camp schedule and arrangement were not quite what we had expected and we would grumble about it. Why we didn’t have more time for shopping, why we couldn’t spend a day in Seoul, why was the camp jacket an ugly “corrective work order” orange, blah blah blah. That led to undesirable Groupthink and further prompted us to stay within the clique, as we presumed that only we could understand ourselves.

I realized that we were also, in a way, afraid of others. We didn’t know what kind of family backgrounds they came from, what kind of lifestyle they had and frankly, if they could understand our English in the first place. Instead, we took the easy way out by minimizing direct contact.

In other words, we didn’t easily open up to others and instead indulged in our own topics and talked in familiar lingos. On the surface we were very “PR-ish” and polite to our foreign friends, but yet still maintained a line between us and them.

The worst part? We consciously knew it, and they heartfelt it.

Thankfully, all was not lost. After more days into the camp (and more bottles of Soju, Hite Beer and boxes of Korean strawberries), the “Jet-Lag Singaporeans” finally woke up and truly mingled with the rest. On their part, they also realized that Singaporeans were not as aloof and unreachable as we seemed to be. Yes, they told us that in the face when we got closer.

On the last sleepless night, a Cambodian friend blatantly confessed in a open circle conversation that he felt that Singapore, being arguably the most developed country in ASEAN, had people that tend to act more like Caucasians and to think on a “different level” from the other ASEAN people, thus accounting for our distancing behavior. Although he meant no harm and didn’t blame us for behaving like-wise, I couldn’t find a positive connotation to his words nor defend ourselves, so much that I kept reflecting on my own attitude for the camp.

What he said was, perhaps unknowingly to us, largely true. Is this what years of solid education should do to us? Is this how the citizens of a developed young nation should behave? Something is very wrong here.

I think this was not just the problem of the 5 of us, but in general, of all Singaporeans. We would not and dare not venture into the unknown and take the first step in embracing others. Rather, we had the mentality to stay in our comfort zone and would require enormous effort to kickstart ourselves. During my reservist training, a friend who is a fast-food restaurant manager, concurred this as he had the same experience during a training trip to Thailand with other Singapore managers; that Singaporeans are way too stubborn to take the leap of faith.

With all the talks about Global-mindedness and “The World is Flat”, I think Singaporeans have a lot more to learn and do to reach that stage; To be more mindful of our own actions, to be more receptive to others and to be more adaptive to different situations. I wouldn’t go as far as to exaggerate that I have emerged as a better person, but I thought it was a valuable moral lesson that I would keep in mind for years to mind.

What say you?

Taken with Nikon D70