Sunday, April 19, 2015

Zi Zai Vegetarian - Boon Keng

Many will remember a long long time ago, when HAM was just a baby, I did a couple of reviews on a restaurant called Forest Dew.  One review back in 2009 and another in 2011.  Well, fast-forward another three years since my last review, and things have indeed changed.  Forest Dew is no more...In terms of the signage at least.  This restaurant has been taken over by the owner of Zi Zai - Taking over eateries is somewhat of a hobby of his, as he has also recently acquired Mai Zhi Su in Ang Mo Kio as well.  Who knows, maybe I will be getting an offer for him to take over Hungry Ang Mo soon too?  Kidding aside, I went to Zi Zai interested to know what changes might have been made, whether for the better or worst - Let's find out...






 
Zi Zai Vegetarian
Location: #01-523 Blk 23 Bendemeer Road
Contact: 62939579
Opening Hours: Daily 10.30am-10.00pm. 


One thing has clearly changed - The decor.  The look and feel of the place is very similar to Zi Zai's latest brain child D'Life.  As with D'Life, the decor is tremendous, a vast improvement compared to the old design.  One thing missing (as with D'Life) is music, it would really bring more life into the place, and mask the sound of the wok.  Interestingly, although the decor and name has changed, Zi Zai is using the same menu that Forest Dew used (it even still has the name Forest Dew on it).
First dish was the Green Curry Fried Rice.  I was going back and forth on this dish.  In terms of green curry, I've been a little spoilt recently, indulging in Chef Wai's mind-blowing green curry cod fish.  So subconsciously my expectations are high, and thus this green curry rice didn't have enough kick for my liking.  Having said that, I did find the rice was very well cooked and there was suitable green curry flavour in the rice.

Price: $7.00 (δΈ­).     6/10
One of the dishes the waitress highly recommended was the San Bei Tofu.  The tofu was fried well, but frankly I didn't like the texture of the tofu itself.  It had that weird almost jelly-like texture, which felt really artificial to me.  The sauce was decent enough, but they should change tofu supplier.  The most disappointing dish of the meal.

Price: $9.00.     6/10
I must admit, the urge to order anything green (except green curry) seldom goes into my head when eating out.  Nevertheless, I kept an open mind for this Fried Water Cress, and I'm glad I did.  This dish was easily the best of the meal.  To me, there is only one way to enjoy Chinese vegetables, and that is fresh tze char style straight from the wok to the plate.  This watercress had incredible flavour, and was cooked to the perfect texture.  The sauce was not too overpowering, and I liked the addition of the small pieces of TVP.  Definitely a dish I would recommend you order.

Price: $6.00.    8/10
Lastly, we have the Savory Brinjal.  Eggplant is without a doubt one of my favourite ingredients, but I can't tolerate it when it's undercooked.  To my relief, for this dish the eggplant was cooked just enough, verging on undercooked but still passable.  Still, I would have enjoyed it more if it had that soft melt in the mouth texture.  The sauce was strong and had just the right amount of spice.

Price: $7.00.     7/10












Conclusion - Zi Zai have recently sparked a lot of controversy for reasons I am not going to go into in this post.  My objective opinion on purely the food is that it is a little hit and miss, but overall the food is at a better quality, compared with most vegetarian eateries.  The staff (for my personal experience) were good and the decor is fantastic.  Boon Keng/Bendemeer has a lot of options in terms of vegetarian, but Zi Zai is one I could see myself frequenting.

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Murugan Idli Shop - Farrer Park

When it comes to Indian food, I would consider myself a connoisseur.  I am willing to pay higher price for better quality genuine Indian food, and I will frequent only the best places.  Considering just South Indian vegetarian food, there are a few excellent places that come to mind - Komala Vilas, MTR and Sri Laksmi Hocuspocuslalalareallylongname being the ones I rate most highly.  But there is another one - Murugan Idli Shop.  I reviewed Murugan back in 2009.  But upon visiting again, I don't believe that review did them justice.  Murugan was first conceptualized 45 years ago (then under the name Murugan Coffee Nilayam) in Mandurai, India selling coffee and snacks.  Subsequently, 20 years later the owners son S. Manoharan took over the business (in 1991) and expanded.  They now have 15 outlets in Chennai alone.  Another three in Mandurai, one in Vellore and three in Singapore.  For this review, I feature their most famous Singapore outlet on Syed Alwi Road - Enjoy!


Murugan Idli Shop
Location: 81 Syed Alwi Road
Contact: 62980858
Opening Hours: Daily 9.00am - 11.00pm


The menu offers a simple yet eclectic mix of South Indian food.  For Buddhist vegetarians, take note that virtually everything on the menu contains onion/garlic.  The prices are higher than most, but what you pay for is quality.  If you're non-vegan then the ghee podi idli is a must try.
After placing your order, immediately your 'plate' is brought to you.  The experience of eating South Indian food on a banana leaf with your right hand is one of life's true pleasures.  The 'plate' is empty to begin with, then whatever you order is subsequently placed onto the banana leaf.  Each banana leaf has Murugan's famous four chutneys.  Consider this an outright threat, do not dare eat this food with fork and spoon, it is an insult to the food.  Your right hand should be your only utensil if you want to enjoy and understand this cuisine to its fullest.


It would be a bit strange to go to Murugan Idli Shop and not order an Idli right?  Idli is one of those Indian snacks that confuse me.  In a cuisine so full of flavour and colour, idli is the one rare exception.  It is virtually tasteless by itself, made from rice and black lentils, which is grounded, fermented and then steamed.  The simplicity of this snack also make it one of the rare healthy Indian foods.  Idli is best eaten by pinching off a piece and dipping it in each chutney, almost like a mad painter dunking his brush in the palette.  Indian food does not celebrate individual flavours, it is more of firework display, where you get a bit of everything in every bite.  The idli from Murugan is soft and delicate, and you can really feel the freshness.  Idli is not my favourite Indian food, but there is no question that Murugan produce the best idli I have ever tried.

Price: $1.75/pc.     8/10
The main item that keeps me coming back to Murugan is actually their Masala Dosai.  I've eaten a lot of dosai in my time, ranging from the hopeless and horrible to the exceptional.  Murugan's masala dosai is the best I have ever eaten.  There are two key components which make this one of the greatest dishes I've eaten.  Firstly, the dosai batter and texture - A great dosai should have strong notes of sourness and saltiness.  The sourness coming from the fermentation of the batter.  Moreover, this dosai is the perfect texture, it is crispy, yet not too brittle, still having that glorious chewy texture.  Secondly, the potato masala almost caused me to faint when consumed.  The texture is creamy and thick, almost like mashed potato, and packed with flavour.  This work of art, when combined with the four chutneys is the closest one can come to food nirvana.

Price: $4.70.     10/10



Here is a closer look at the colour and texture of the potato masala in the dosai - Just incredible.  I ate three in one sitting last time I visited.

If you're looking for something a little more simple, you can opt for the Plain Dosai (although I would strongly recommend going for the masala version instead).  As I previously mentioned, the texture of this dosai is perfect and I love the enhanced amount of sourness from the fermentation of the batter.

Price: $3.60.     8/10














Conclusion - Since my first review of Murugan almost six years ago, I must say that I was wrong about this place.  Over the years, my ability to appreciate their offerings has grown, to the present point, where I would dare say they are one of the best vegetarian eateries in Singapore.  Eateries like Murugan make me so thankful I live in Singapore and can experience all the multitude of different cuisines this country has to offer.  If you have not visited Murugan, you owe it to yourself to experience it.

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jadeite Vegetarian - Bugis

One of the new kids on the block for vegetarian food in 2015 is Jadeite Vegetarian.  Having first heard about Jadeite from Facebook (you can find their page here), their branding made me think that Jadeite was in fact a higher end vegetarian restaurant (similar to Sufood or Herbivore etc).  Therefore, it was quite a surprise to find in reality it is just a small cosy little cafe with only about six tables.  Nothing wrong with small and cosy, but the Jadeite branding doesn't quite match the establishment in my opinion.











Jadeite Vegetarian
Location: 470 North Bridge Road, Bugis Cube, #03-21
Contact: 91956939

Opening Hours: Daily 10.00am-10.00pm 

 
Based on the description on the Jadeite website 'We serve a wide variety of traditional and modern vegetarian dishes to suit all taste buds' I must admit that I was expecting something more, and was a tad underwhelmed when looking through their menu.  The menu is quite simple, with less (both in terms of quantity and imagination) dishes compared to a typical vegetarian shophouse stall. 
It is also crucial to take note that egg is lurking in many dishes at Jadeite.  Even dishes such as 'Pork Chop Rice' contains egg in the mock meat.  Luckily enough, the staff working there is intelligent enough to warn customers about this in advance.  For most eateries (especially those run by aunties and uncles) they will be using mock meat with egg in a lot of their dishes (even those stalls that claim there is no egg in their food).  Moreover, dishes such as wanton mee are again not suitable for those who can't take eggs.  Make sure to ask, clarify, and double confirm.
First dish I picked was the Penang Kway Teow.  Having lived in Penang for many months, eaten countless variants of kway teow, and learnt to cook the dish myself from Penang vegetarian cooks - I must say that this version is not authentic to how Penang kway teow should be.  The key to Penang kway teow is the savoury salty taste and the abundance of dark sauce.  This version did have suitable flavour, and was not as bland as its pale look might suggest.  However, it needed more dark sauce (I don't believe any at all was added), chilli, and needed to be cooked on a more intense heat.  Not a disaster, but not a true Penang kway teow either.

Price: $5.00.     6/10
I initially wanted to order the pork chop rice, but after finding out that it contained egg, I switched to the Sambal Fish Rice.  The mock fish and the Chinese celery went very well together.  The chilli had a good kick to it, but the sauce was too one dimensional for my liking.  I enjoyed the fried cabbage.

Price: $5.50.     6/10
Lastly, we have the Chicken Cutlet Rice.  The mock chicken used was the deep fried crunchy chicken style, which were coated in a sweet and sour style sauce, once again with white rice and fried cabbage.  The sweet and sour sauce was decent enough, and I've always liked that chewy sinful mock chicken.  Not much skill or creativity shown in the dish, but decent enough.

Price: $5.50.     6/10












Conclusion - The most captivating thing about this eatery is the branding.  Describing itself as a 'traditional and modern vegetarian bistro' it certainly excites ones imagination.  Bizarrely though, in reality this eatery is serving a basic menu, with simple dishes.  Perhaps in the future they intend to expand the menu significantly, who knows.  For now though, I wouldn't feel inspired to return again.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Nature Cafe - Jurong East

This post completes my trilogy of posts on Nature Cafe.  For those not familiar, Cafe Nature originally started out with just one outlet located at Bukit Merah.  This outlet has been running for over 15 years now.  It was only until recently that the owner decided to expand his operations and open two more higher class vegetarian eateries.  The first of these outlets I reviewed back in November 2014, located at Aperia in Bendemeer area.  For this post, I will feature the final outlet, which is located at Tradehub.











 
Nature Cafe
Location: 8 Boon Lay Way, #01-29 Tradehub 21
Contact: 65155939

Opening Hours: Daily 10.00am-9.30pm 


This Tradehub location was previously occupied by another vegetarian eatery called Cafe de Paradiso.  After this eatery closed down, Nature Cafe soon opened.  Surprisingly, Nature Cafe seems to be thriving where Cafe de Paradiso was once suffering.  Once again, the decor and ambiance of this outlet is outstanding - I still prefer the Bendemeer outlets ambiance, but this one is excellent in its own right.

The meal started off with the Petai Fried Rice.  One thing that must be said about Nature Cafe is that their prices (at all three outlets) are some of the most affordable in Singapore.  The food portions are usually large, and no matter what your budget, you will be able to find something on their large menu.  Petai bean is one of my favourite ingredients, and when fried with rice it really manages to transfer its aroma throughout the entire dish.  The rice was a little too soft for my liking, but I enjoyed this dish.

Price: $4.50.     7/10
Next up we have the Sweet and Sour Pork.  Finding a chef that knows how to make a perfect sweet and sour sauce is not easy.  I've eaten many acceptable sweet and sour concoctions in Singapore, but never a perfect one.  The only perfect sweet and sour sauce I've eaten (in my life) was at the famous Tung Fong Siu Kee Yuen restaurant in Hong Kong.  Since that life changing experience in Hong Kong, every other sweet and sour dish just seems so ordinary to me.  In this dish, I really enjoyed the mock meat that was used - It was chewy and flavourful.  I must admit, the sauce itself was nothing special, but the rest of the ingredients were cooked well.

Price: $8.00.     7/10
The most disappointing dish of the meal was the Hot Plate BBQ Sambal Fish.  The sauce in this hotplate just didn't suit my preference.  The sauce had a somewhat 'dirty' taste to it, and I failed to detect any BBQ flavour in it.  Having said that, I liked the shredded cabbage that was placed on top, and the mock fish was decent enough.  Not a disastrous dish, but not one that I would consider ordering again.

Price: $10.00.     6/10
In addition to a myriad of Chinese dishes, there is also a number of Western items on the menu.  The dish I decided to pick (after much deliberating) was the Fish Chop Set.  This set meal was presented beautifully on the plate, the 'S' shaped lemon cutting being particularly wonderful. The portion of pasta is large, and the taste was good.  The mock fish patty could have done with being a little bigger, but all in all this was a tasty set meal.

Price: $9.00.     7/10




Conclusion - As mentioned previously, what I believe is the key to the success of Nature Cafe is the affordability and variety that can be found in their menu.  On top of that, customers are getting one of the nicest ambiances in Singapore.  The Tradehub location is a little out of the way for regularly customers.  But due to the large amounts of office workers in the area, this outlet seems to be thriving and deservedly so.

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Soon Long Sin Vegetarian Food - Woodlands

People of 'the land of Woods' as a dear friend of mine would say, you no longer need scratch your head wondering where in Woodlands has vegetarian food.  Over the last few weeks, I have highlighted a number of vegetarian eateries in the Woodlands area (Vege Food Hub being clearly the best, in my opinion).  Today, I feature a stall in the north of Woodlands, in a small and forgotten shopping plaza called Woodlands North Plaza.  Soon Long Sin Vegetarian Food have quite a wide and extensive menu, and long operating hours.  Moreover, they are also actively involved in vegetarian catering, so if you need vegetarian food for an event/function, you may want to consider SLS.








Soon Long Sin Vegetarian Food
Location: Stall 2, Kerk's Kopitiam Stall, Blk 883 Woodlands Street 82, Woodlands North Plaza
Contact: 97518300
Opening Hours: Daily 6.00am-9.00pm. 


There are about 20 dishes in total to order from.  Or, you can choose economic bee hoon or rice, the options are quite limited though.
Their Been Hoon and Dishes was the first dish I selected of the meal.  The bee hoon was well cooked texturally, but lacking in any aroma or flavour.  The eggplant was cooked very well, and matched nicely with the bee hoon.  The dishes were quite cold, however, which did detract from my enjoyment.

Price: $2.80.     6/10
Next dish is the Carrot Cake.  During my hundreds of hawker/coffee shop explorations, it is very rare I come across a dish I am cautious/afraid to try - Well, ladies and gentleman, SLS gained the unfortunate honour of producing such a dish.  This carrot cake had an inconceivable amount of oil used, to the point where everything on the plate was glistening like a substance from another planet.  If you're planning on consuming the entirety of this dish, do yourself a favour, dial '999' in advance, cause you may need a paramedic crew to assist you out of this eating house.  I ate one piece in total.

Price: $3.00.     2/10
Kway Chap was the next dish.  The bowl of kway was above average.  I found that the broth had just the right amount of flavour, and the texture of the kway was just right - It was not too tough, neither did it easily break apart when plucked up by the chopsticks.  It was the side plate of assorted ingredients that was the disappointment.  Firstly, a good kway chap should have these ingredients swimming in a shallow more concentrated version of the soup broth - This one did not.  Also, it could have done with more varied ingredients.  Personally, kway chap is just not complete without mei cai (preserved vegetable).  The taste and texture of the tofu was not bad though.  The chilli was too oily (there is something with excessive oil and this stall) and lacked dimension.

Price: $3.00.     6/10




Conclusion - Honestly, I don't want to sound mean, but I felt physically sick after my meal at this stall - And it left me reflecting on what damage I am doing to my body by writing on Hungry Ang Mo - The oil in that carrot cake was seriously ridiculous.  If I am in the Woodlands area, I would always go to Vege Food Hub as my number one choice.  Even given the choice between starving or visiting SLS again, I would probably pick the former...

Overall Rating
Food - 4/10
Ambiance- 6/10
Service - 6/10
Value - 5/10
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