Monday, September 29, 2008

Cassis - Sunday Brunch

UPDATE: This restaurant is now CLOSED.

Sunday brunches often give you the opportunity to dine at your favourite top restaurants at a very reduced price. Or even better, you get the opportunity to test expensive restaurants without having to stretch your budget. While buffet-style-hotel Sunday brunches are very common, set menu Sunday brunches are not as popular. Buffet-style brunches will often give you good value for money, especially if you are on an empty stomach, but good set-menu brunches have a better opportunity to deliver the same sort of quality you can experience on a full-priced dinner at the same venue.

Cassis is located at Rochester park on the upper side of the hill within a black&white colonial house. The spacious and busy kitchen is open and visible from the outside, exposing the high level of hygiene maintained within.

I had dinner at Cassis once, and it was an amazing experience. Their lunch deal is actually available also on weekdays. They have two options: one including dessert and priced at $40++, and the other one only including starter and main for $35++. Drinks are not included.

As at their dinner course, we were first served a loaf of warm bread with garlic and herbs flavoured butter on the side. You can ask for more bread at no extra charge.

For starters, I ordered a tuna carpaccio topped with fresh tomatoes and vinaigrette. Although beautifully presented, I was quite disappointed by this dish. The seasoning was excessively sour, which made it rather unpleasant to the taste. I am still not sure if it was meant to be that way or they just got it wrong, but a more gentle seasoning would have made this dish a success.

The smoked salmon was as good as the one I had at their dinner set menu, only presented differently. Same quality of salmon and thick, creamy sauce, topped with extra leaves of baby spinach.

The rib eye steak, garnished with roast potatoes and caramelised onions, was as good as it can be. Well cooked, tender and moist, topped by real gravy. Unfortunately this particular selection required an extra $8 dollars on top of the standard price, but it was well worth it.

The red snapper was just as nice. Juicy white meat topped by its exceptionally crispy skin, suspended on a bed of assorted vegetables. The sauce was delicate but tasty, and wisely laid below the fish, giving you the option to combine it with the meat.

The nougat ice cream was beautifully served in a well sized portion. Its nutty and creamy texture was interleaved with extra-thin layers of dark chocolate.

These fabulous chocolate profiteroles were served split into two, filled with vanilla ice cream, covered in chocolate sauce and topped with almond flakes. Rich but refreshing.

The mini-desserts pictured above were served with compliments of the chef, which I thought was nice.

Overall, the bill came up to $143.60 for 2 people, including water and an extra tea. The otherwise pleasant experience was slightly ruined by the fact that we were charged $27.00 for mineral water ($9 x 3 bottles) unknowingly. Apparently, they kept opening new (small) bottles behind the scenes without informing us, while we thought we were only having one bottle. The bottle is not displayed, so it's hard to track when a new bottle is being opened.

Water incident aside, I still believe that the Cassis business lunch menu is an excellent opportunity to have some well served great food in a relaxing environment at a fairly reasonable price.

This is their website for more information:

Coffee Bar K - Cocktail Gourmet

Coffee bar K is a 'Japanese bar' located at UE Square. It's such a unique experience that I found myself becoming a regular. The high degree of professionalism is admirable, and while the solemn atmosphere might be a deterrent to some, it's actually one of its strengths. Looking at the place from outside reminds me of a classic painting by 'Edward Hopper', which is perhaps due to the fact that the long bar is fully exposed by a huge transparent window, and yet so subtly isolated from the outside.

Coffee bar K is a place where making cocktails is a serious business. The Japanese bartenders are highly trained, and the selection of alcohol is surprising. There is a cover charge of $15 after 9pm which includes some snacks like wasabi chips and raw ham and a fruit platter, but don't be discouraged by that as you will get what you are paying for.
The menu includes a never ending list of spirits and cocktails, and some hot food is also served in case you need a quick bite.
If you are a 'Martini' lover, I absolutely recommend having one of those, either vodka or gin based. You will have a chance to taste a Martini at its purest. The Negroni (a Campari based cocktail) is also a house special, an excellent opening for those who find Martini's too dry.

The grasshopper is a minty cocktail with a dash of milk, superbly shaken into a foam that makes it so light you will finish it without even realising. I would particularly recommend it for the ladies.

The peach Bellini is made with real peach puree', not peach liqueur or flavourings as other bars do. It does taste like the original version of this classic Venetian cocktail.

This Yuzu based cocktail was designed for me by the bartender. The floating layer of crystals adds texture to the sharp tangy flavour of this mixer. A real delicacy for Yuzu lovers.

Whether you like your cocktails or you are looking for a good selection of whiskies or Vodkas, whether you are out with a client or a date, Coffee Bar K will be a special experience. It is a place where drinking is as religious as eating at a Michelin rated restaurant.


Bonta (but not quite)

It's not too often that I walk upset out of a restaurant in Singapore. But it definitely happens more often on my attempts to visit Italian restaurants. Perhaps because, being Italian, I know what the real thing should taste like, and it particularly irritates me when I get charged fine dining prices for food that can barely be categorized as home cooked food. Unfortunately, Bonta is one of those places.
Having read advertisements raving about the multi-awarded head chef, I naively hoped their food would match the expectations set by the advertising campaign. Well... it doesn't, and it's not even close.
I started getting suspicious as I went through their vast menu. I could count about 11 starters, 11 pastas/risottos, 10 mains and 6 desserts. It would be rather challenging for a fine dining restaurant to successfully maintain an appropriate level of quality with so many dishes on their menu.

We were first served what was announced by the waiter as their 'renowned bread'. It was a warm load of bread served in a cup, enclosing a rich combination of Feta cheese, nuts and other ingredients. Not bad, but not particularly Italian either. Overall, I would say that this 'freebie' was their most successful dish.

As a starter we ordered 'oven baked Australian scallops' ($24). They came with their shell, topped with spinach and a 'black olive hollandaise sauce'. On top of it all, an extra bit of greenery. I am not entirely sure what's Italian about this dish, but I would be happy to forgive the 'fine dining' creativeness if it was well done. Unfortunately, the combination of oven baked scallops with hollandaise sauce, spinach and watercress doesn't quite work. Scallops are a subtle delicacy. Keep it simple.

The other starter also came topped with the same greenery, which seems to be particularly fashionable at this restaurant, as much as the 'basil oil' which surrounds every dish. The 'Sicilian swordfish carpaccio' ($29) couldn't have been worse. The delicate texture of thin slices of swordfish were raped by the presence of a salad right on top. And we are talking a real salad, with full-sized slices of tomato...

Now the pastas, what every respectable Italian chef gets a chance to prove himself with. The 'spaghettini with tiger prawns, cod, sun dried tomatoes and bottarga' ($30) were topped by our favourite topping: watercress. Traces of bottarga could be spotted if you looked hard enough. Overall there was nothing particularly wrong with this pasta, but it wasn't exciting either. Just an average, rather oily pasta, which you would have in a normal 'pizzeria' (please note, not restaurant) if you were in Italy.

The same can be said about the 'homemade basil infuse angel hair with crab meat, chives and salmon roe in white wine sauce' ($29). Once again, topped by the usual magic touch of watercress and surrounded by oil and chopped basil. Flavours weren't quite as distinct and sharp as they should, and the whole thing had a rather creamy texture.

We didn't order the desserts, as we thought we could save ourselves further disappointment and unnecessary bleeding of cash. The bill came up to $170 including 2 cocktails and a bottle of water. I am happy to spend such money for food that's worth it. Unfortunately Bonta is not the kind of place that makes me proud of being Italian. Take a look at their website: They sell Bonta as a fine dining restaurant. This is simply unacceptable, when obvious shortcuts are taken when it comes to produce, preparation and presentation.

The service was friendly and efficient, while ambiance rather spooky and uncomfortable, probably due to the unsettling lighting.

Next time, should I be around the area and crave for Italian, I will go to Cugini. Only a few steps away, I can have the best Italian food I have had in Singapore to date, and for a more reasonable price.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Braise - Sunday Brunch

UPDATE: This restaurant is now CLOSED.

What is more relaxing than a Sunday branch in Sentosa within a bright and spacious environment facing the beach, well served with free-flow French delicacies and champagne? It might sound too good to be true, but after spending my Sunday afternoon at Braise, I have only good things to say about it. Efficient, friendly and discreet service accompanied by succulent food, a stunning view and a beautiful architecture. I provided large pictures that you click-on and enlarge to be tempted.

There is no better way to start than a couple of fresh oysters. They came garnished and seasoned with a vinegary dressing. Slightly on the sour side for my taste, but they did taste fresh and juicy. These were not mentioned on the menu and I am not sure they are regularly served.

Following the oysters, we were served a couple of appetising salads. The first one was a 'Scallop wrapped in Parma ham with rocket salad and honey balsamic dressing'. The scallops tasted fresh and juicy, and the Parma ham wrap was so thin thin and crispy that it didn't spoil the texture of the scallop. A few slices of yellow and ruby oranges added color and flavour.

The 'Caesar salad' was well dressed, with crunchy bits of caramelised bacon which gave a twist to this popular dish.

The 'escargot with herb crust' was particularly flavoursome, topped with a thin layer of herbs gently baked to perfection.

I particularly liked the 'pan seared foie gras with caramelised banana'. You don't often get 'eat as much as you like' foie gras, especially of this quality. It was very moist, melting to the cut, with a thin crispy outer layer and accompanied by a moderately sweet caramelised banana.

I am not a big fan of cocktail sauce, but the prawns in this 'king prawn cocktail salad' were very succulent and juicy.

'Sundried tomato and spinach olive and Parma ham' was a classic Italian appetizer, with abundant sweet and tender slices of Parma ham accompanied by an assortment of preserved vegetables, olives and fresh tomatoes. Very refreshing.

This was my favourite starter overall, the 'pan fried crab cake with curry alioli'. The texture of shredded crab was very well preserved together with the subtle flavour. The sauce was an interesting addition for those who find pure crab too plain, although these 'crab balls' could well be enjoyed with no extra seasoning.

There is an outdoor 'break' area where you can sit down and relax after you are done with your starter, waiting for the eggs. It is well ventilated, with a wide sofa and chairs and a beautiful view over the beach. It is used as a smoking area for those who need a cigarette break.

Egg benedict is one of my favourite French dishes, and yet one dish that I haven't eaten for very long. This is a very classic version, with salmon served on the side. Maybe it's the fact that I didn't have it for so long, but I found this traditional, simple dish the best of all. Great, delicate sauce, fantastic warm bread and well, salmon was my pick. Alternatively, you can have it served with sausage, bacon or 'herbs tomato'.

At this point, I would say that anyone with a regular stomach capacity will be full enough to call it off and have a dessert. The main dish is optional, or you can choose to have the main instead of the egg. I don't recommend having both eggs and main unless you have been starved for a couple of days.

The 'Beef tenderloin with French beans and potato gratin and Bernaise sauce' was a good choice. Well cooked, quality beef topped with a delicate foamy sauce and accompanied by greens and a classic, crispy potato gratin.

The 'Duck confit with gratin potato and orange sauce' had a nice crispy skin and delicately seasoned. The duck was not too dry and perfectly matched with moist potato layers.

I am a matcha lover and I am always intrigued by green tea flavoured food. Unfortunately, I have never actually tasted green tea in most of my attempts outside of Japan. This was another failed attempt. Besides the fact that this 'Green tea Creme Brulee with margarita sorbet' didn't particularly taste of green tea, it was a fabulous Creme Brulee, accompanied by a light, sour sorbet that will wash your palate from the Creme Brulee's creamy residuals.

The 'Chocolate lava cake with coffee ice-cream' was served nice and warm, with hot chocolate oozing out of the spongy cake. Not too sweet, just perfect, and balanced by the coffee ice cream provided on the side.

Having a chat with the restaurant manager, it seems like at Braise they have all the right ideas. They are planning for Sunday kids entertainment, to give some free time to their parents while tasting this wonderful brunch. They are also planning for free-flow sparkling wine in the near future. With such a sumptuous brunch priced at $55++, I can only say Braise is excellent value for money. I will definitely be back for dinner to give their dinner menu a good try.

Kha - Modern Thai

Kha is a modern Thai restaurant located in Hort Park. The setting is quite interesting, although I would only recommend the outdoor tables on next to the main entrance.

The menu is actually quite traditional as in any other Thai restaurant, except the "Chef's recommendations" menu, which has a collection of more inventive dishes. Please refer to their website for more information:
Apologies for the pathetic pictures, but this was a dinner and the ambient light was so dim that producing appetising photos would have been a real challenge.

We were served a complimentary starter of rice crackers with a curry sauce for dipping.

As a starter, we chose 'hor muk salmon', described as spicy grilled salmon souffle on lemongrass with pomelo salad and red curry dressing. Although the description sounded quite 'modern', the dish tasted quite authentically Thai. The salmon souffle' was actually a typical salmon fishcake accompanied by a nice foamy sauce.

The second starter was a salad called 'yam nua wagyu' and described as rare grilled red curry rubbed Wagyu beef, papaya salad, yogurt and chili jam. This also tasted quite typically That, with the exception of the Wagyu beef that didn't taste like Wagyu at all. The beef was of average quality and it was nothing like Wagyu beef and didn't look it either. If you forget about the 'Wagyu' bit, then you can probably start appreciating this dish.

The 'pla salmon yang', a grilled salmon fillet served on green mango, ginger, Thai herb salad with citrus oyster sauce dressing was an enticing combination, but a rather disappointing find. On the positive side, the salmon was only lightly seared. Being a sashimi appreciator as I am I can only be pleasantly surprised by that, but I can also imagine lots of un-entertained faces biting into what they expect to be a cooked salmon fillet to actually feel a thick chunk of raw meat as they start chewing. Writing 'seared' on the description might help. There was nothing wrong with the way the dish was cooked, but it just didn't work. Perhaps a different fish would have made this a successful combination, but salmon really didn't work with that set of ingredients.

Finally we had the 'nua moun' - a beef tenderloin wrapped around enoki mushrooms with seasonal vegetables, spicy sour tomato puree' and green leaves. This dish was OK, the beef being not particularly tender, but well marinated into its Thai tasting sauce.

The dessert selection was not incredibly inviting as in any Thai restaurants. I had the 'sung kaya fuk thong', a coconut mousse with poached pumpkin in jasmine syrup. I wasn't particularly impressed by what was actually not a mousse but a coconut pannacotta topped with coconut meat and garnished with caramelised strips of pumpkin.

Overall, I was highly unimpressed by Kha for a number of reasons. Starting from the environment, which looked pretty impressive on picture, while in reality it didn't meet my expectations. The outdoor terrace at the back where I was first seated was very noisy and right next to the roadside, so I asked to be moved inside. The service was rather poor for a restaurant at this price range. There was a continuous storming of waiters coming in and out of the restaurant to serve the outdoor tables. The fact that a couple of waiters kept rushing through the door to suddenly come to a halt only 1 meter next to our table and stand right there in order to take their order using their portable palmtop became rather disturbing after a while, to the extent that I had to communicate it to the manager. After my complaint, the waiters were redirected to the counter in order to complete their orders. My guess is that their palmtops have a very short reception and the waiters are unable to use them outside, so they have to rush into the restaurant and stop as soon as they get reception. Not very well thought, and they'd better sort it out fast considering that they will be losing customers because of this.
The fact that the dishes weren't accurately described in order to make them sound 'fine dining': a salmon mousse that is actually a fishcake, a coconut mousse that is a pannacotta, a salmon steak that is a raw seared chunk of salmon, a 'Wagyu' beef that is a normal slice of beef. The restaurant is overpriced and it does not deliver the right level of ambiance, service and food to justify the bill.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I admit that Tonkatsu is not the kind of food that I can eat regularly. Even so, I am a tonkatsu lover when the experience makes it worth it. Tonkichi is well known in Singapore for its Tonkatsu, as it specialises in it just the way they do in Japan. I visited the "Ngee Ann City" branch. For more information, this is their website:

As in any respectable Tonkatsu restaurant, there are two things you can't live without: free-flow cabbage, and grind-it-yourself goma. Tonkichi delivers both. It's nice to smell the sesame seeds as you grind them, as it stimulates your appetite in preparation for what's going to be served next.

The potato salad was rather tasteless and not as tasty as the ones I had in Japan. Perhaps lacking in mayo, possibly healthier, but not really worth ordering at my next visit.

The horenso goma ae, spinach with sesame sauce, was rather strong in flavour, too sweet for my taste and lacked of balance. A dish you might want to order if you are a spinach lover, but you might be disappointed if you ever experienced what a proper version of it should taste like.

Now, this is what you come here for: the Tonkatzu. There are two versions: Hire and Rosu. The one in the picture is a rosu tonkatzu with oroshi (grated Daikon - white radish) on the side. I usually prefer Rosu, which is fatter, juicier and tastier, while hire tends to be leaner and drier. I have o confess that both cuts were equally good in different ways so perhaps the first time you visit this place it might be worth ordering a combo platter which includes both. It will give you a chance to taste both and compare them.

The tonkatzu was of good quality, although the battered coating was slightly too think for my taste. Their style is to make the coating quite thick and crunchy, to add an outer layer of texture and maintain the meat juicier in the inside. Some prefer this style. My preference would be a thinner coating (which is not as filling) preserving the same juiciness of the meat, while enhancing its flavour without suffocating it with an 'over-bread-crumby' texture.

Tonkichi is regarded as the place to go for Tonkatzu in Singapore. Although it might give you the best value for money, I would rather enjoy my kurobuta tonkatzu at Tomton (see separate review). Perhaps slightly most expensive, but worthwile the calories.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Summer Pavilion - Dim Sum

What's better than a sumptuous Sunday lunch Dim Sum. The Summer Pavilion is located at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, and they serve dim sum at lunchtime. Their menu is traditional yet innovative, offering relatively cheap ($30 dollars per person) and delicious dim sum in an elegant setting.

Tapioca crisps - This is what you will find ready at your table as you sit down. It's a snack to keep you busy while you order and wait for your food. It's a well presented snack that sets the theme of the restaurant: innovation within tradition.

Pan-fried shredded yam with pumpkin - I haven't seen this dish elsewhere and I love it as much as I love pumpkin. The crunchy texture of the outer layer is interleaved by two layers of soft shredded yam and one of sweet shredded pumpkin. A must try.

Steamed Lily bulbs dumpling with water chestnut, snow pea and mushrooms (left) - This dumpling has a very delicate flavour, with spikes of sweetness when you bite into the lily bulbs. Water chestnuts just add that crunchiness to the otherwise uniform texture.

Steamed rice skin roll with vegetarian ham, assorted mushroom and vegetable (right) - This is a rather original version of the traditional chow-fun. The unconventional filling is interleaved by vegetables and topped with a crunchy decoration.

Pan-fried crab meat dumpling with prawn, chicken, chives and mushrooms (left) - I didn't think that the ingredients composing the filling were particularly recognisable, but a pan fried dumpling adds variety to your dim-sum selection.

Steamed Squid with XO sauce (right) - This squid is as soft as it can get, delicately engraved to enable the savoury sauce to permeate its slippery surface. Highly recommended to squid lovers.

Steamed lobster dumpling with mushroom, Chinese parsley and onion - This was by far the best steamed dumpling. The meaty lobster texture is quite pronounced, while the shiitake mushroom flavour is quite dominant.

Baked chicken puff with onion in curry sauce (front) - The pastry is quite rich and thick, while the filling lacks of body. This wouldn't be my first choice overall, being quite filling and less rewarding than the other dishes.

Pan-fried chicken dumpling with dried shrimp, mushroom, preserved vegetables and chives (background) - An original version of the dried dumpling, with a string flavour of chives and mushrooms. The dough is dry on the outside but it reveals a moist, soft inner body when bitten into.

Overall, I highly recommend the "summer pavilion" as a dim-sum venue. the luxury of being properly served at a 5 stars hotel standard is accompanied by delicious, inventive food at an affordable price. It's definitely the kind of place that I would love to patronise regularly.


I am extremely fussy about food, and being Italian I am even worse when it comes to Italian food. After several frustrating trips to all the most expensive Italian restaurants in Singapore, I had given up on having proper Italian food in this country.
I have been patronising this restaurant regularly since I discovered it. It has been a touching experience being able to taste superb Italian food in Singapore for a very reasonable price. If you have a chat with the Cugini's, you will quickly realise that pride and passion are the motivating factor for what they do. They are not there just to make money by taking shortcuts, but rather to offer the best they can. This, for a foodie such as me, is a very fundamental factor. I have to say that everything that comes out of their kitchen is of very high quality, although my personal preference is the pastas primarily because in from my experience no other restaurant in Singapore is able to deliver the same quality, consistency, innovation and authenticity as Cugini can do when it comes to "primi piatti".
Although I have tried all of their pastas, this particular review will only cover a few sampled dishes.

Burrata - This was a special this weekend, and a sweet surprise too. I haven't eaten burrata for about 3 years. For those who don't know, burrata is a fresh cheese that might resemble mozzarella, but texture and flavour are quite different. Being able to taste such a juicy, melt-in-your-mouth burrata in Singapore was rather surprising. The simple but tasty condiment of seasoned chopped tomatoes adds that classic Italian flavour to the dish.

Spaghetti integrali all'amatriciana - This is one of the most classic Italian dishes and one of my favourites, originated from Rome. Not many would believe me if I say that even in Rome it would not be easy to find a plate of such pasta as good as you can have it at Cugini's. I went on a trip to Rome a few years ago, and I was regularly disappointed with the amatriciana's I had in most restaurants. Try this, and you will understand.

Ravioli Neri with seabass filling and lobster sauce - this is a special that might not always be available and I had it tonight for the first time. I feel that fish filled ravioli is a particularly challenging dish to prepare, as fish does not have the same richness in taste/texture as meat and cheeses do, when used as a filling. Maintaining the texture and subtle flavour of seabass when preparing it this way is a harder job. However, this dish is a successful concert of subtle flavours and textures that must be tried by all pasta and fish lovers.

Risotto with lobster, asparagus and Granny Smith - I am not a huge fun of risotto's, but after trying all their pastas, I was interested in experiencing something different. Risotto's can be boring, but this one isn't. The combination of various ingredients and textures - chunks of lobster, crunchy asparagus, buttery overtones - are enhanced by a sharp white wine fragrance (prosecco, according to the Chef), to achieve perfect balance. I have never appreciated seafood risotto's, but there is always a first time.

Overall, I can only recommend Cugini's. I have not reviewed their main dishes and they are just as good, but when it comes to pasta I would be happy to challenge anyone to find such quality elsewhere in Singapore. If you do, let me know and I will rush to try it :)

Cugini is located at Robertson Walk:

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