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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Gokul Vegetarian Restaurant - Little India

When I first started singing the praises of Gokul, it was coming up to 10 years ago, back in 2007.  Back then, when I mentioned the word 'Gokul' to any vegetarian in Singapore, their default response was 'huh?' - Fast forward almost a decade, and you'd have to be living under a rock not to know about Gokul (you're welcome Singapore).  It has famously been featured as number 1 on my Top 10 Vegetarian List for Singapore for over five years.  Like anywhere that has become universally successful, the challenge is always maintaining that level - Especially in an environment where staff quit almost as soon as they start working, and employment passes become more and more difficult to obtain.  It has been over two years since I have last reviewed Gokul, so let's see if they have managed to keep their ridiculously high level up.

Gokul Vegetarian Restaurant
Location: 19 Upper Dickson Road
Contact: 63967769
Opening Hours: Daily 8.00am-10.30pm.

I had not been to Gokul in a while, and I must say the staff were almost entirely new faces to me, I only recognized one familiar face.  The staff are now taking orders on their mobile phones, not something I am a big fan of, as it gives that 'messaging my girlfriend while working' vibe (even if they are not doing that).  I love Gokul, but I have to be objective and say that service quality has dropped significantly, most likely due to the fact that Vijay, who has been such a vital member of Gokul's family in the past, is no longer working for them.  In the past, the staff had a faultless level of attentiveness, and a personable manner with customers, unfortunately I find that service quality is lacking now.  The ambiance of the place is great, and they were practically full at 3pm, a testament to how popular they are.  On a side note, their menu has been edited somewhat, and now slightly lesser variety of dishes are available, but still there is an almost crazy amount of options.  Also, they now have all the vegan items clearly indicated on their menu - Thank you so much for doing that Gokul, it really makes our lives much easier.

Firstly I couldn't resist the classic Indian dish Aloo Gobi, one of my all time favourites.  Aloo gobi (literally meaning potatoes and cauliflower) can come in wet and dry versions, this one was the former.  This was an excellent addictive curry, and I could have easily polished off three bowls of it. The ingredients were cooked to perfection, and the curry was mild, yet packed with flavour.

Price: $9.00.    9/10
To go with our curries, of course, one needs rice - We went for the Chef Samsuddin Signature Biryani.  This dish is their most highly rated rice item on the menu.  The rice portion is very generous, and comes with sambar and raita (non-vegan) on the side.  The rice was flavourful, and not too spicy.  In terms of improvement, I found that there was a bit too much mock meat inside (Gokul's menu, in general, is quite mock meat dependent).  But aside from that, it was an excellent biryani - I loved the super long grains of basmati, and the green sliced chilies (although quite deadly) gave a excellent overall flavour to the dish.

Price: $12.00.     7/10
Next we have the Claypot Fish Curry.  I loved how this dish comes with the flame still going strong underneath the claypot as it arrives to your table.  Inside the curry there are slices of mock fish, ladyfingers, eggplant and tomatoes.  The curry gravy was thick and thankfully not drowned in excess oil, like many fish curries that I have devoured in the past.  I like the dimensions of flavour in the curry, but found that the sour levels in the curry could have been amplified somewhat.  Aside from that small mark for improvement, this is overall a magnificently executed dish, which I have ordered several times in the past and never been disappointed.

Price: $10.00.     8/10
Out of all the dishes at Gokul, the Sukka Mutton might be my personal favourite.  I love dry strong flavoured curry dishes, and this one ticks every box for me.  The curry flavour was intense, with several depths of flavour - Due to this incredible array of flavours, it really makes the mock meat feel very real, as its real taste is masked by the glorious curry.  I loved the addition of the curry leaves, and was glad the sometimes irritating whole garam masala was barely detectable.  Nothing negative to say about this dish, it is close to perfection and definitely a dish you should be ordering when visiting Gokul.

Price: $9.00.     9/10

Conclusion - Just a reminder, all the food at Gokul is without MSG and has no onion or garlic in any of the food - Considering that, it is really amazing how fantastic and flavourful the food is.  In terms of quality, I find that the food quality has not dropped at all - The dishes that I have loved over the years are still just as great.  PLEASE, I BEG YOU don't go to Gokul, see unfamiliar dishes and then cowardly select 'safe' fusion dishes like mee rebus, prata, clear soup etc - Your fear of the unknown will really deprive you of experiencing Gokul at their best.  Nothing left to say, except if you haven't been to Gokul yet, then shame on you - If you have, then I am sure you will share my sentiments about the quality of food at this excellent eatery.

Overall Rating
Food - 10/10
Ambiance- 9/10
Service - 7/10
Value - 8/10

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ratsamitham - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thai vegetarian food can basically be divided into two categories.  There are the local style red and yellow 'jey' vegetarian eateries, which serve economic rice and dishes at dirt cheap pricing.  Then there are the more up market vegetarian eateries (usually located in the center of town) which are aimed more towards expats and tourists (of course, the price being much higher).  Today, I am reviewing one of the former, which goes by the name Ratsamitham.

Location: Sirithon Road, Chang Puak, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Contact: 053-221-501
Opening Hours: Daily 7.30am-4.00pm.  Closed Sunday. 

Out of the many traditional style vegetarian 'jey' Thai eateries that I visited in Chiang Mai, I would have to say the best variety of dishes came from this eatery.  There were several tofu dishes, curries, vegetables and fried items.
Here was my assortment of Rice and Dishes.  I went for the potato curry, preserved stir fried vegetable and the scrambled fried tofu.  The fried tofu reminded me a lot of lab, which is one of my favorite dishes, but it didn't have the various herbs inside that one would typically associate with lab.  The potato curry was probably my favorite, it had a good kick of spice, and went nicely with my plate of rice.

Price: 30THB.     6/10

Conclusion - Nothing much else to say about this place.  If you're in the area, then definitely I would recommend checking this place out for a cheap satisfying meal.  Not necessarily a place I would travel long distances for though.

Overall Rating
Food - 6/10
Ambiance- 6/10
Service - 7/10
Value - 8/10

Friday, November 6, 2015

Imm Aim Vegetarian Cafe - Chiang Mai, Thailand

After looking at the numerous positive feedback left on Happy Cow and their own personal Facebook page, I was quietly optimistic about visiting Imm Aim Vegetarian Cafe.  Imm Aim is located a little out of town, but still gets a flock of tourists and expats visiting the restaurant.  Once again, there was not one local in the entire cafe.  This cafe has a mix of Western and Thai cuisine, specifying heavily on salads, wraps/sandwiches and quite a wide selection of fresh juices and smoothies.

Imm Aim Vegetarian Cafe
Location: Muang, Ching Mai Santitham Rd, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Contact: 089-264-5511
Opening Hours: Daily 10.00am-8.00pm 

It was a humid night, so I selected the Banana with Chocolate Milk to cool myself down.  This smoothie was probably my highlight of the meal.  It was incredibly thick and had a perfect balance of chocolate and banana.  It was further thickened by adding coconut milk.  I could have drunk six of these bad boys.

Price: 50THB.     8/10
There are a variety of different salads available at Imm Aim, for vegans, be careful as some of the contain eggs.  Moreover, every dressing (apart from one) contains honey, so your options will be a little restricted.  I picked out the Grilled Veggie Salad.  This salad contains a variety of grilled vegetables, which include zucchini, oyster mushroom, eggplant, and carrots.  Most of these ingredients were nicely charred, especially the oyster mushroom, which naturally grills very nicely.  Some of the ingredients, particularly the eggplant was too under cooked.  The tamarind garlic sauce was tangy and very refreshing.

Price: 75THB.     7/10
I guess I've been a little bit spoilt by amazing pita, hummus and falafel from Hassan at Fill-a-Pita, so I couldn't help feeling disappointed by this Pita Falafel Sandwich.  Firstly, someone needs to inform the chef his/her hummus is missing two key ingredients - Tahini and garlic.  The latter is forgivable, the former is not.  Seriously, hummus without tahini?  The falafel balls were tough and had a strangely resistant outer skin, almost like biting into a ping pong ball - They were too dry, and (although I am sure this is not the case) felt as if they were years old.  The tomatoes in the salsa were excellent, but needing garlic and acidity, and the pita bread was too thick. 

Price: 95THB.     3/10

Lastly was Thailand's most iconic of dishes kaeng khiao wan, or Green CurryI've still not found anywhere that matches the curries at Pun Pun, so I tend to get underwhelmed pretty fast elsewhere.  This curry had a good kick of spice, and there were a lot of nice ingredients inside.  However, the curry itself was too diluted for my liking, and didn't have very complex flavours - Instead it was merely coconut and chilli that stood out, everything else was lost.  Not a bad dish though, and I did like the fresh large leaves of Thai basil that was put on top.

Price: 60THB.     6/10

Conclusion - Aside from the delicious smoothie, I didn't taste anything from Imm Aim that would lead me to consider returning.  The ambiance of the place is nice, with the vibe being like being in someones garden, however if you go in the evening you will have to battle with the mosquitoes whilst eating.  An average place overall, good for one visit, but they wouldn't have me as a regular.

Overall Rating
Food - 5/10
Ambiance- 7/10
Service - 7/10
Value - 6/10

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Tien Sieng Vegetarian Food - Chiang Mai, Thailand

If you're spending your time (like most tourists do) inside the central fort of Chiang Mai, you will find it difficult to come across a taste of authentic local cuisines.  One exception is Tien Sieng, which although located in the city centre, still offers an authentic local experience.  The customers at this restaurant seem to be an equal mix of Thai's and foreigners.  Geographically, it is located at the southern end of the fort, and is also within very close distance of another vegetarian eatery called Morning Glory.

Tien Sieng Vegetarian Food
Location: 54/56 Prapropkklao Road, Amphur Muang, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Contact: 053-206-056
Opening Hours: Daily 6.00am-5.00pm 

The menu at Tien Sieng is pretty simple.  There is the option of having economic rice and dishes, in addition to a handful of ready made dishes.  The prices are really ridiculously cheap here, so if you're looking for an affordable meal, then this is definitely a place you will want to check out.
As with all Thai food, it wouldn't be complete without an array of tongue numbing varieties of chilli.
First I selected the Rice and Dishes selection.  If you're looking to fill your stomach with very little money being spent in the process, then this is the dish for you.  The portion size was incredibly generous.  Unfortunately, the taste of the dishes left a lot to be desired.  There were limited options (all vegetable dishes) and, quite frankly, as I was eating this dish I envisioned this must be something similar to what prisoners are getting in jail.  All the dishes had virtually no seasoning or spice.  The long beans being the worst of the bunch - I am quite sure they were literally just fried in oil only, without anything else added.   Not food that I can appreciate.

Price: 30THB.     3/10
Next was the Khao Soi, and when it arrived I certainly had much higher expectations - It was presented beautifully.  Upon tasting, I felt this dish (and all the food at Tien Sieng) was leaning a lot more towards Chinese food, rather than Thai food.  This khao soi reminded me a lot of Chinese (especially Malaysian) curry mee.  Moreover, instead of the traditional yellow flat noodles, a style of white Chinese noodle was used.  The gravy was a lot more diluted, compared to others I have tried, and didn't have any pronounced flavour from conventional Thai herbs/spices.  The gravy taste was quite flat, with some distinct sweetness there.  The overall flavour of the dish was elevated by the sprinkled lime juice.  Can't complain about the price, but taste wise far from the best khao soi I've tried.

Price: 30THB.     5/10

Conclusion - If filling your stomach is more of an inconvenience, rather than a point of joy, then you will like Tien Sieng, as you will be able to spend very little to fill yourself.  However, if you are (like myself) someone who would rather eat good food or nothing at all - Then I can't help but feel you will find you're quite underwhelmed by the offerings of this restaurant.

Overall Rating
Food - 4/10
Ambiance- 6/10
Service - 6/10
Value - 9/10

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Khun Churn Thai Vegetarian Cuisine - Chiang Mai, Thailand

The name Khun Churn will not be new to residents of Chiang Mai.  This popular restaurant has been running successfully in the city for over 20 years now.  It is a Thai specialty restaurant, and arguably the most high end vegetarian establishment in Chiang Mai.  If you're looking to impress a date or mark a celebration, then the ambiance at Khun Churn would suit such occasions perfectly.  The audience who frequent Khun Churn can be split into two categories - Expats living in Chiang Mai and affluent Thai nationals. Despite the fact this is a high end restaurant, their afternoon buffet is marked at an incredibly affordable 169 baht per person flat (no surcharge etc).  It was this buffet that caught my attention and spurred me to visit this restaurant to check it out. If you can't make it to Chiang Mai, they have another outlet located in Bangkok, you can see the Facebook page for that outlet HERE.

*map will be posted when exact new location is confirmed*

Khun Churn Thai Vegetarian Cuisine
Location: Kad Farang Village, Hang Dong District, Chiang Mai, Thailand.*
Contact: 053-270-071
Opening Hours: Daily 10.00am-3.00pm (buffet) & 5.00pm-9.00pm (a la carte)

*Note - Khun Churn are currently closed at their old location (where I did this review), and will be moving to their new address (see Location:) at the end of November.  Until then, they are currently closed.

In terms of diversity and variety, the buffet at Khun Churn must surely rank as one of the best I have seen.  There were a plethora of dishes spread throughout the entire restaurant, you have to look around carefully to ensure you don't miss out on anything!  The staff are unbelievably attentive and on the ball, not like the 低头族 generation in other countries who seem incapable of doing anything that requires movement and/or intelligence.  Even the chef can be seen regularly prowling around clearing plates and showing customers to their seat.

In a separate station all by itself, there is a Khao Soi section.  Here they have yellow noodles along with the curry sauce and a variety of fresh uncooked ingredients, which you can add to your hearts content into your bowl.

For those who are in the mood for something a little more sinful, there are deep fried carrots and other vegetables.  Along with a couple of dipping sauce choices.
Here is a look at my first plate (first of many) for the Buffet.  While none of the food was sensational, it was all consistently good, which is an extremely impressive feat for a buffet.  My personal favourites were the dry potato curry (although incredibly spicy), the deep fried carrots and the glass noodle Thai salad.  On the upper level of the restaurant there is also a salad bar, grilled vegetables and fruits.  Considering that everything is purely vegetarian, it must rank as the best buffet I have been to in my food travels.
I couldn't resist gathering together a bowl of Khao Soi.  For those unfamiliar with this Thai dish, it does have distinct similarities to dishes like laksa in Singapore, curry mee in Penang and lemak laksa in Northern Malaysia (Southern Thailand) - It is a rich coconut milk based dish, with a good hit of spice and of course the ubiquitous Thai herbs.  Khao soi is also notorious for having deep fried hard yellow noodles as a garnish on top.  This dish was not bad, I liked the addition of round soya granules inside, and overall the coconut gravy was very well seasoned, with a nice undertone of sweetness.
The only section which could have perhaps been improved upon is the desserts station.  There were only two desserts, both of which didn't really impress me.  The coconut banana 'pudding' was overly sweet and cold.  The honeydew dessert on the right hand side was quite refreshing though.

BUFFET PRICE: 169THB/per person.     9/10

Conclusion - The service is absolutely excellent at this restaurant.  Every member of the staff work in harmony together and are some of the most proactive that I have seen in a long time.  I've been disappointed by the below par standard of buffet offerings far too often in my 28 years of life - Khun Churn really did a excellent job of tearing down my skepticism, and really impressing me.  The buffet is unbelievable value, and definitely an experience you shouldn't miss when in Chiang Mai.

Overall Rating
Food - 7/10
Ambiance- 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value - 8/10
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