Saturday, March 30, 2013

Waraku Japanese Casual Dining

You have to admit that The Central is the place to go if you are craving Japanese food. The number of Japanese restaurants there cannot be counted with both your hands (unless you happen to have 8 fingers on each hand). And with so many Japanese restaurants to choose from, you sometimes wonder if you should go with gut feel, or just follow the one with the longest queue.

And if you ask me where i'll safely put my bet on without losing any credibility, i'll tell you Waraku Japanese Casual Dining. I've been to Waraku a couple of times, and each time i leave there satisfied (and wanting to come back for more). This casual dining restaurant, which also means you can get comfy in berms and flip flops without being judged or being refused entry is probably one of the better casual Japanese restaurants in town.

We started off with the Hokkai Salad which had an assortment of raw fish ranging from salmon, ikura, squid and tuna. I would say that the cuts were pretty decent even though they were served on a salad, and the bountiful topping of ikura pretty much "wow-ed" me. The dressing also had a slight hint of wasabi, which i really liked as well.

If you are a tuna fan, you cannot miss out on the Maguro Carpaccio at Waraku. A few restaurants in town do this well and Waraku is one of them. Served cold with shredded raddish and carrots, all soaking up the goodness from the sesame sauce, we polished the perfectly seared tuna slices off in no time.

However, if you like your stuff the natural (the way it is), you can opt for Sashimi 3 Kinds, which consist of salmon, tuna and yellowtail served fresh. And if 3 is not enough, you can go for the Sashimi 5 Kinds.

Maki lovers will be glad to know they also serve quite a range for you to choose from. The Ura Maki which had avocado, cucumber and crab stick with tobiko was good but at the end the one that stole my heart was the Ebi Mango Maki which had sweet prawns and cucumber topped with slices of sweet mango and tobiko - the sweet slices of the mango paired well with the prawns and the cucumber gave the whole maki a good bite.

Waruku basically has it all (well, almost all). They also offer skewers (or some say Yakitori) for those who prefer things off the grill and a bit charred. And if you cannot decide which one to get, go for the Yakitori Mori 5 Kinds. My pick will have to be the Tebasaki (grilled chicken wings), which were lighty salted and cripsy, the Buta Buta (grilled pork) and the Uzura Bacon (grilled quail eggs wrapped with bacon), which i thought was something more unusual as compared to the mainstream bacon and asparagus.

And for those who do not really care about what the number is on the weighing scale, the Ebi Tempura which had a light crispy batter is definitely worth the calories and will make you very happy.

Not one of the best dishes at Waraku but if you are easily amazed by little things, you should try the Kaminabe, which comes in Beef, Chicken or Seafood. This paper pot (yes, paper) does not burn despite a flame underneath keeping the soup constantly boiling while you enjoy slices of beef, chicken or seafood with aplenty of fresh greens and mushrooms.

We also tried the Niku Chige Ramen which had a thick and flavorful soup base with slices of beef and springy ramen, which also happens to be one of my favorite dishes at Waraku now. It may not be the most photogenic or presentable bowl of noodles but definitely one of the yummiest.

If you like things simpler and plain, try the Nabeyaki Udon with a choice of beef or chicken. The pot suprisingly also has mochi (rice cake) in it, which i thought was quite uncommon.

The Assorted Mochi for dessert however, didn't exactly satisfy the aching sweet tooth of mine. Instead, the Macha Crepe served with azuki beans and fresh cream did. The green tea ice cream wasn't overly sweet, and the slight sourness from the fresh strawberries pretty much evened out the sweetness from the azuki beans.

The truth is, Waraku has almost everything one would need to satisfy their need of a proper Japanese meal. Adding on to that, their restaurant at The Central has one of the better views one could possibly ask for, especially on a date - the restaurant overlooks the Singapore River. The best part will probably be that dining at Waraku with a view and good food won't cost you an arm or a leg. And now, you can thank me because you won't have to wrack your brains about which Japanese restaurant to choose when you are at The Central.

Waraku Japanese Casual Dining
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
#03-89/97/98, The Central
Singapore 059817
+65 6224 1156

This was an invited media tasting.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Salta Argentine Parrilla

I have to admit that when i was recommended Salta at first, i had high hopes for this place. After all, Argentine food is not something you get everyday. There was a lot of raves about the meat at Salta, which sadly were a complete disappointment.

To begin with, the choice of bread served (baguette) was not the best choice they could have made. The bread was hard as rock to the extent the pate served with it couldn't make up for it. We asked for a change of bread but was told that they only had baguette. Later on that evening, the table beside us got served Focaccia. 

For the first main, we had the Ojo de Bite (Beef rib eye) which was served dry despite our request for it to be medium. The meat was tough and for the price you are paying at Salta, i can assure you that you will easily be able to get a better piece of rib eye else where for the same price (or even lesser).

The Costillas de Cordero (Lamb) also disappointed. Although the serving of it was quite generous, the meat lacked seasoning and wasn't at all tasty. In fact, the distinctive lamb smell from the meat slowly hit me while i was halfway though it.

Also, point to note also that at Salta, their mains are served with half a grilled tomato and two halves of a mini potato, so don't expect much from the sides. The point they are trying to focus on - the meat, which unfortunately didn't make the mark.

The only thing that i thought was not too bad was the Costillas de Cerdo Ahumadas (Pork ribs). The home-made smoked ribs were flavorful, tender and fell off the bone easily.

I was hesitant and apprehensive about ordering dessert but we still gave it a go. Unfortunately, the Apple Crepe was served burnt. The Chocolate Cake on the other hand, was not bad, but rather small in portion. To put in bluntly, the desserts did not make up for the mains.

While Argentine food may be unique and not common in Singapore, the food at Salta clearly did not make the mark for me. Also, in case you were wondering, the mains will set you back by about SGD 35 - SGD 40 each - yes, for that piece of meat, two potato halves and half a grilled tomato. We also waited 45 minutes for our mains to be served. If you ask me whether i am coming back, the answer is no. And if you are thinking of popping by, i hope the risk is worth taking.

Salta Argentine Parrilla 
12 Gopeng Street
#01-56, Icon Village 
Singpore 078877
+65 6225 8443

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pasta De Waraku

The last you would expect from a Japanese restaurant is pasta and pizza. Pasta de Waraku is a Japanese casual pasta and cafe restaurant. They offer a pretty intensive menu ranging from pasta, pizza to rice and other side dishes.

We started off with the Prawn Avocado Salad that had a generous amount of prawns in it. The greens were evenly tossed in fish roe (mentaiko) dressing and there was more avocado in it than i expected. The serving of the salad is pretty huge so i recommend this to share so that you have enough space for the main courses.

Pizza lovers wil be glad to know that Pasta de Waraku not only serves pasta but also pizza. I must say i am pretty impressed by how they managed to take an Italian food item and combine it with Japanese infused flavors.

We were recommended the Spicy Cod Roe & Potato, which wasn't spicy at all in my opinion. There was aplenty of cheese over the thin and crispy oven-baked thin crust and although the spicy cod roe may come off a little salty, the slices of potatoes is set to even out the taste with its starchiness.

The other pizza we tried was the Scallop & Prawn. With a similar thin and crisp crust, the only difference was that this pizza had plump scallops and prawns on it. The taste came together nicely but the only downside was that the toppings fell off as soon as i picked each slice up.

For pasta, we had the classic Carbonara Waraku Style which i thought was something different as compared to the normal pastas we normally have. There was a lot of bacon within the thick sauce and the nicely poached egg in the middle took the whole dish to a whole different level when mixed in.

If you prefer something lighter (or if you are a fan of aglio olio), you will like the Spaghetti Ala Vongole, which has littleneck clams tossed with nicely cooked al dente spaghetti. The whole dish may look simple but if you like the sweetness of clams tossed in their in house Wafu Sauce (a bit like fish sauce), this dish is for you.

While Pasta de Waraku isn't your typical Japanese restaurant that serves you tempura and sashimi, it is definitely a place worth coming to. After all, how many Japanese places in Singapore serve you pasta and pizza? Also, service was excellent despite it being full house, which also brings me to my point about making a reservation to avoid disappointment. And if you do not get a table, fret not because they have not one, but two outlets.

Pasta de Waraku
10 Sinaran Drive 
#01-07, Square 2 
Singapore 307506
+65 6317 7962

This was an invited media tasting.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


It is official - i have a new favorite ice cream place (or in this case gelato, which more or less taste like ice cream). Mezzanotte (pronounced "meh-za-not-tay") lies among a row of shophouses along Upper Thomson.

Gelato flavors at Mezzanotte are aplenty. The range include liquor flavored ones like Tiramisu and Malaga (Rum and Raisin), as well as fruity ones like Durian (using D24 quality durian) and Passion Fruit.

The Lava Cake left to impress with a warm molten center. It was recommended to go with the Salted Caramel gelato, which nicely balanced out the sweetness from the cake.

The freshly made waffles drizzled with chocolate sauce also got a thumbs up from both my partner and me. Not all freshly made waffles are good (some are soft and not crispy because of different types of batter used) but this one was soft and crisp as well. Also, the portion of the waffle was pretty huge as compared to what other places serve. We had the waffles with the Pistachio and Ferrero Rocher gelato, which i was glad were not overly sweet. You can also opt for maple syrup instead of chocolate sauce over your waffles.

I left the best for last - a slice of warm homemade brownie with bits of white and milk chocolate chocolate chips topped with my favorite Croccangelo gelato. Croccangelo has to be my favorite flavor at Mezzanotte with bits of sugar coated hazelnuts within the vanilla gelato.

Like most ice cream places, you can try all you want before making your decision on which to indulge in. And for a couple of bucks, you'll end up finding yourself in dessert heaven. Also, if all that is still not enough to satisfy that sweet tooth of yours, you'll be glad to know they also have take home size pints for your midnight movie indulgence.

906M Upper Thomson Road
Singapore 787110
+65 6456 7382

This was an invited media tasting.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nara Thai Cuisine Bangkok

CentralWorld is one of my favorite shopping spots when i am in Bangkok  - it is the largest shopping plaza and complex in the city. Located at the 7th floor of the huge complex is Nara, a Thai restaurant that supposedly serves up pretty good food for decent prices.

We started off with the Nara Platter, which wasn't as impressive as i thought it would have been. In fact, the only thing that was good was the fish cake and fried dumplings. The satay was tough, the pomelo salad was sweet and the spring rolls had a sweet sauce accompanying it which i couldn't quite understand.

The Yum Woonsen (Spicy Jelly Vermicelli Salad) with seafood had the right amount of spiciness and zest to it. Overall, i really enjoyed this dish, which was served warm.

The Phad Pak Bung (Stir Fried Morning Glory) was mediocre and tasted like any other normal kind of stir fried vegetable you could get at a roadside or local stall. I thought it would be spicier but the sauce wasn't spicy at all despite having bits of chili in it.

A Thai meal is never complete without Tom Yum Kung. This one however, also fell short on expectations. The soup was thick, but not spicy enough (it was more sour than spicy). They were generous with the mushrooms but were stingy with the seafood. I felt it should have been the other way round - more seafood and less mushrooms.

My favorite dish had to be the Pla Kao Tord Takrai (Crispy Fried Whole Garupa with Crunchy Fried Lemongrass). They fillet the fish for you, making it easier for you to eat. However, there were more fried garlic than lemongrass (which is also why i like it), so don't expect a lot of lemongrass flavor infused in it. The fish was no doubt fresh and the whole dish accompanied with a sour sauce definitely got a thumbs up.

The Kao Phad Kung (Fried Rice with Prawns) had plenty of prawns in it. However, i didn't find it exceptionally fantastic and the portion was small - the only thing that probably made up for this dish were the prawns.

We ended off the meal with desserts that pretty much made the mark/were on par (finally, after all the inconsistency from the food). The Durian Ice Cream with sticky rice and jackfruit was a different twist from the common mango sticky rice you get in Thailand. The Lord Chang Nara (a bit like the Singapore Chendol) was also good.

One thing i was pretty dissatisfied with at Nara was the service. It wasn't full house that night and the staff there were pretty inattentive. I had to ask for bottle water four times before getting it delivered to me. Prices are pretty reasonable for a restaurant in a considerably high end shopping complex from 140 Baht ( SGD 6) to 460 Baht (SGD 20). But of course, since the food at Nara is not really to die for, i don't think it is specially worth the trip unless you happen to be shopping around CentralWorld.

Nara Thai Cuisine
CentralWorld Bangkok
7th Floor, Beacon Zone
+662 613 1658

Friday, March 8, 2013

Viet Cafe

Living in Singapore means you get a wide variety of cuisines to choose from at your fingertips. A new establishment tucked in the corner of Square 2 (located conveniently just beside Novena) is my definition of a cosy and homely hot spot for Vietnamese cuisine.

Viet Cafe recently set foot and serves up a range of Vietnamese food, and also a bit of a fusion (making use of the Vietnamese flavors and style). If the name sparks any familiarity, they used to be at Battery Road a few years back, before going on a hiatus and coming back with a better menu of greater variety.

We started off with the Pomelo Salad with Tiger Prawns. The whole dish had a lot of texture from the finely shredded turnip, carrots and cucumber, topped with peanuts. The prawns were especially fresh and crunchy. Together with the citrusy flavor from the pomelo, as well as a little bit of spiciness, the whole dish escalated to a exciting burst of flavors.

The next dish, which happens to be one of their signatures was the Clams in Lemongrass Butter. The buttery sauce is rich with flavors from the clams and i found myself polishing off the whole dish by myself without sharing.

One of my favorite dishes was the Imperial Char Siew. As grand as it sounds, it actually is. Slow-braised for 8 hours under low heat, the meat was tender and soft. The only downside was the sauce, which i felt wasn't enough, as well as the shallots on top that were not as crispy as i thought it would have been. Nonetheless, the portion was generous and there was nothing to fault with the main star of the dish - the char siew.

What is Vietnamese food without spring rolls? We opted for the healthier version instead of the fried one. At Viet Cafe, they serve up Mixed Fresh Rolls, just so you get best of both worlds (chicken and prawn). Also, two different dipping sauces are served up to your delight - the traditional fish sauce and peanut sauce. We preferred the latter because of its stronger flavor.

The Lemongrass Prawns is another must-try at Viet Cafe. The lightly battered prawns were fried to ingenious crispiness. When dipped in the lemongrass sauce, which was slightly spicy and had more lemongrass in it, the whole dish wasn't too overpowering with the lemongrass taste.

When i mean fusion, i meant it. The Escargot with Lemongrass Mushroom is a perfect example of a Vietnamese woman wedding a French man. The baked escargot was submerged in lemongrass and mushroom pureed with butter. It was so good that my partner in-shamelessly wanted to ask for a second portion.

We could not leave a Vietnamese restaurant without having any Pho. We had the Assorted Seafood in Original Broth and Supreme in Spicy Broth. The first had an assortment of seafood (prawns, fish, squid and mussels) and the original (chicken) broth had a very homely taste. Also, all the seafood were very fresh.

The Supreme, which consists of different cuts of beef (brisket, shank, tenderloin) and meatballs in spicy (beef) broth was another stunner. They were extremely generous of the portions of the beef served, and the homemade meatballs were soft and had the correct amount of spices involved. The soup was slightly denser than the original so you should opt for this if you are up for something heavier.

In all, Viet Cafe serves up deletable ethnic-tasting food. The flavors were strong but not too overpowering. They serve up reasonable portions at affordable prices. However, like all places that serve up good food, seats are limited so expect to wait if you are going at peak hours.

Viet Cafe 
10 Sinaran Drive
#01-07, Square 2
Singapore 307506
+65 63977162

This was an invited media tasting.