Saturday, February 28, 2015

Miao Lian Vegetarian Food - Woodlands

Vegetarians of Woodlands, I am determined to make your life easier.  Over the next few months, I will be featuring at least three new vegetarian eateries in Woodlands/Marsiling area.  Woodlands has long been known as one of the least attractive areas in Singapore, in terms of vegetarian food, but perhaps now it is changing?  Today I delve into the so-called industrial area of Woodlands.  Don't be fooled into thinking this food court is in an ulu (far away) location - It is surprisingly close to the Woodlands MRT.  Definitely within walking distance.

Miao Lian Vegetarian Food
Location: #01-11, 35 Marsiling Industrial Estate Road 3.
Contact: 85159861
Opening Hours: Daily 6.00am-1.30pm. Closed Sunday.

There are several dishes plastered on the wall at the back, but unfortunately none were available when I visited.  The owner mentioned to me that she tends to cook special dishes on Saturday, when customers outside of her usual office workers crowd tend to visit the food court.
The Hong Yun Food House is very new and actually has two vegetarian stalls inside - I will be reviewing the second one (Vege Food Hub) very soon.  It was such a pleasant surprise to see two in the same food court (something almost unheard of elsewhere).
Here is what to look out for on the outside.  This food house only opened up a few months ago.
These are the dishes they have on regular basis, although many of these are not available too.
Miao Lian Vegetarian is run by a Chinese speaking auntie called Madam Zheng.  Prior to opening Miao Lian, Madam Zheng was a cook at the Guan Im temple.  She has over 18 years of cooking experience, and also organizes buffets and other food events.
Nothing much was available when I visited, as they were close to closing, but I first tried their Bee Hoon and Dishes.  The bee hoon still tasted fresh, but it was a little mashed up and didn't have much aroma to it.  For the dishes, I picked out potato, pumpkin and eggplant.  The potato was quite forgettable, and the pumpkin was slightly undercooked - But the eggplant was amazing.  The eggplant was soaking in a tom yum style sauce, which was packed with flavour.  I could have happily ordered an entire plate of that eggplant.

Price: $3.00.     6/10
Next I ordered the Hor Fun, I actually wanted the dry version, but I was presented with the wet one.  The ingredients in this dish were diverse, and I was surprised to find a suitable amount of wok hei present in the dish.

Price: $3.00.     7/10

Conclusion - Those who are working in the immediate industrial area are lucky individuals, but as I mentioned before, this food court can easily to reached by foot from Woodlands MRT.  I shall look forward to trying the other stall in this building and seeing how they compare.

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Simple Food - Ubi

Simple Food is a brand most people in Singapore know - But the first question one might ask when referring to Simple Food is 'where are they now?'.  It is safe to say Simple Food move around a lot, in fact, over the last few years they have moved at least three times to my knowledge.  Previously having two branches at Pasir Ris and Tampines.  They subsequently merged into one and reopened in Bedok North, only to close down again and move to their current (I wonder for how long) location in Ubi industrial area.  This location is by far the most remote, with only office workers realistically being able to visit there.

Simple Food Vegetarian
Location: 50 Kaki Bukit Place #01-02, Jean Yip Building
Contact: 67440207
Opening Hours: Daily 11.00am-10.00pm 

The new location of Simple Food is in the Ubi industrial area, at the Jean Yip building.  Unless you drive, you are going to have to go through hell to get to this location.  But from what I saw, the eatery does seem to be popular with the office workers in the area.
I've always felt that Simple Foods shortcomings were never with chef James Teo, I am a great fan of his, and do believe he is one of the best vegetarian chefs in Singapore.  Unfortunately, poor location choices and universally negative feedback about staff have blighted the success of this eatery over the years.
In addition to the Simple Food menu, James also released many packaged vegetarian foods, which can be purchased at the eatery. My personal favourite is their bak kut teh.
I started the meal off with Japanese Veggie Curry Potato.  This dish had a lot of positives and only one negative.  The positives were the curry sauce was exceptional, packed with flavour and not too sweet.  The cauliflower and broccoli were cooked well and I loved the creamy melt-in-your-mouth mashed potato croquette on top.  The only negative was the sliced potatoes in the curry were not cooked long enough, and were almost raw.  But overall this was an excellent dish.

Price: $7.50.     8/10

Next I went with one of the many Western dishes, which was the Fish & Chips.  This dish was veganised by my request, but by default it will come dressed in non-vegan mayo.  The mock fish fillet was crunchy and juicy, and overall one of the best I have tried.  The salad was nicely chopped and fresh, but really needed some kind of dressing.

Price: $8.80.     7/10 

The last dish was Bacon Bolognese.  This dish was ultimately the worst of the meal.  Based on what I have tried, I have come to the grim conclusion that Chinese chefs (no matter how talented) don't seem to be able to grasp the fundamental flavours of Italian cuisine.  Instead, opting to turn it into some kind of Asian-Western fusion dish.  To make a good bolognese there needs to be a meat substitute (usually TVP is used) in order to really even justify calling it 'bolognese'.  Without that, it is merely just a tomato sauce spaghetti.  The ingredients inside were cooked well, but all the ingredients used were out of place, and belong more in a Chinese stir fry than an Italian pasta dish.  The sauce was also a little too watered down for my liking, and lacking any punch.

Price: $6.80.     4/10

Conclusion - I almost feel it is a shame that the new Simple Food is in such a remote location, as I truly believe that James' food deserves to be enjoyed by the masses.  I would especially recommend his Japanese curry potato, and I recall from my previous visit to their old Bedok outlet the monkey mee sua is incredible (unfortunately it was not available when I visited).  In addition to these two, I am sure there are many more excellent dishes on the menu - Just stay away from the pastas.

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

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tian Ning Vegetarian - Bukit Panjang

In the West of Singapore things are a little quieter, a slower pace and people are somewhat friendlier - Just how I like it.  In terms of vegetarian, though, Bukit Panjang is not an ideal location - Except for the phenomenal Tanaka, over at Fajar area.  Recently when I was strolling through the bustling central wet market,  I ventured upon a coffee shop with a vegetarian stall inside.  I couldn't resist trying...

Tian Ning Vegetarian 
Location: Blk 260 Bangkit Road
Contact: None
Opening Hours: Daily 5.30am-1.00pm. Closed Monday

In order to find this stall, you will have to go through the Bukit Panjang Neighbourhood Centre - This vicinity has a large old fashioned wet market, and 3-4 coffee shops in total. 
Options are quite limited at this stall.  Most days they are selling only economic rice and bee hoon and one additional daily special.  I started off lunch with their Economic Brown Rice & Dishes.  There are quite a lot of options, and I was pleased to see more vegetables, instead of the usual slurry of mock meats and fried items.  I picked out the ladyfingers, winged bean and potato curry.  The ladyfingers were a little undercooked and tough, but I loved the potato curry, the potatoes were very well cooked.

Price: $3.00.     6/10 

The special dish for today was Lor Mee.  By itself, this lor mee gravy is a little flat - It is only when getting vinegar (in my case, a copious amount of it) that the gravy comes alive.  Inside were mock fish, tofu and another fried ngo hiang type item.  Nothing much more to say about this dish, very typical.

Price: $2.50.     6/10

Conclusion - This stall is hardly a world beater, but I was overjoyed to discover its existence.  If you're stuck in the Bukit Panjang area, then this stall will be one of the few options in the area.  There is also a very simple vegetarian bee hoon (da bao only) stall a little closer to the market, which I intend to feature very soon on my blog.

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

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Merit Vegetarian - Jurong West

Being a vegetarian in the West of Singapore is often at times like walking through an endless desert gagging for water - It is safe to say the vegetarian options are limited.  There are a handful of outstanding vegetarian eateries, such as Tanaka, Little Prince and Vegetarian Villas.  But apart from a few gems, it is pretty barren.  Merit Vegetarian could well be another bright spark in the West, having recently only opened on the 3rd January 2015.  Interestingly, the owners of Merit Vegetarian are the former shareholders of the recently demised Greenzilla.

Merit Vegetarian 
Location: #01-149, Blk 491 Jurong West Avenue 1
Contact: 90233672
Opening Hours: Daily 8.00am-9.00pm

One certainly cannot accuse Merit Vegetarian of not having many dishes - Their tze char dishes are plentiful, but are only available after 12pm.  In a country where most vegetarian hawkers are turning off the lights and mopping the floor at 1pm, it is great to see an eatery opening in the evening.  The owners also previous had a coffee shop stall nearby at block 494.
In addition to Chinese food, Merit also has quite nice Indian menu (although Malay-Indian fusion is a more apt term).  A number of the Merit vegetarian workers are Indian, so you can be assured this is not going to be done by a novice to the cuisine.
Desserts are also available.
Coming across Roti Prata in a Chinese vegetarian eatery is not unheard of, in fact places like Zi Zai and Tian Yi have built quite a reputation from their roti prata.  But I would have to say that Merit have produced one of the best roti prata I have eaten in a long time.  The prata itself is not too oily and has several light fluffy beautiful layers - It really is a thing of beauty.  Moreover, the curry sauce has a very close resemblance to the traditional Malay style prata sauce - With one key exception - Much less oil.  Malay food is notoriously oil (and pretty much everything else that is bad for you) heavy - So I am glad there is now a healthier alternative.  When I visited, their roti prata was selling like hotcakes, so I guess I am not the only one who was impressed.  For strict vegans, I did manage to confirm there is an amount of planta used, hence you may want to avoid this.

Price: $1.00/pc.     9/10

 Another dish that is quite tough to find in vegetarian form is Murtabak, but if you want to try a pretty amazing vegetarian rendition, then you must visit Gokul (Little India outlet, not Fortune Centre).  Merit's version of murtabak was excellent in terms of the texture of the dough - It was soft and light.  But it was a failure in terms of the filling - Leafy vegetables and cabbage were just weird inside a murtabak.  But the curry sauce was great.

Price: $5.00.     6/10

I have eaten some of the very best Masala Dosai in Singapore, from places like Komala's, MTR and Sri Lukshmi-bala-bumpi-rahja-ding-dong-ping-pong-blah-blah.  So somewhat inevitably this dosai was not going to match those standards.  The dosai batter was actually done quite well (although a little lumpy and thick in areas) and the chutneys too were passable.  But the masala inside needs insurmountable improvement - It has too much cabbage and too little potato and is void of all the cruicial Indian spices (no turmeric - Chef, are you mad?).  I am no skilled chef, but even I could make a better potato masala blindfolded, handcuffed and with banana peels on my feet.

Price: $2.80.     5/10

Next was Roti John.  To find this dish in vegetarian form is not an easy task.  I only know of Divine Realm in Hougang who produce (and having been producing for many years) an excellent (although hardly authentic) roti john.  For this version, it is more authentic in appearance, compared with Divine Realm.  But taste wise it comes up a clear second best.  Once again, there is this confused Chinese-Indian cabbage-obsessed concoction inside, which feels highly out of place.  Less said about this dish the better.

Price: $4.00.     4/10

Prior to lunch time, there are still many local specialty dishes available, the first one we sampled was the Char Siew Rice.  No serious complaints about this dish really.  The char siew was good quality, the soup was surprisingly flavourful (not the typical Chinese soup that just tastes like water) and the presentation was great.  I thought the chilli was a little too heavy on ginger, but other than that this is a decent dish.

Price: $3.00.     7/10
I have been quite a pampered little boy when it comes to Wanton Mee - I routinely find myself barely able to contains my giggles while slurping up Chef Wai's heavenly Ipoh influenced wanton mee, which I rank as (by far) the best wanton mee in Singapore.  Unfortunately, as a result of this, all other versions of this dish seem quite standard.  Having said that, I did like how two varieties of wanton were used in this dish, and the noodles were fresh and bouncy.  The major flaw was in the noodle sauce, which was too flat and needed a kick.

Price: $3.00.     6/10
I was sufficiently captivated with the Merit dishes to return again later that day to try their tze char dishes.  I started out with the Xiang Chun Tofu.  Xiang chun is one of my all time favourite Chinese ingredients, which can be used literally countless ways in many different dishes.  Unfortunately for this dish, the taste of the xiang chun was too mild, almost non-existent.  The tofu was fried well and I loved the garnishing on top - But bland tofu with a tasteless sauce ultimately left the dish feeling very flat.

Price: $6.00.     6/10
Next tze char dish to the table was the Sweet & Sour Fish, once again this dish was presented very well, I love how purple cabbage is used for garnishing.  The mock fish had good taste and texture, but I have certainly had better sweet & sour sauce.

Price: $6.00.     6/10
Let me preface my next thoughts by saying this - I hate Cereal Prawn.  Not as much as I hate congee, but the hatred is still substantial enough.  So, having said that, this cereal prawn rendition was actually really good.  The mock prawns were huge and not bad as far as mock seafood is concerned.  The cereal was cooked well and had just the right amount of sweetness.  This may well be the best vegetarian cereal prawn in Singapore...But still I wouldn't order it again!

Price: $6.00.     8/10

Conclusion - I spent the time sampling a lot of the dishes at Merit, and honestly they were a mix of hit and misses.  But I do see a good future for this shop house vegetarian stall.  They have a great mix of Chinese and Indian food and if they can make roti prata their signature and work a decent menu around it, then I see great things.  Considering Merit has only been operating for a few weeks, the food produced exceeded my expectations.

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

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sri Rajya Lakshmi Narasimhan Vegetarian - Farrer Park

Back in October 2010 I reviewed a South Indian eatery called Sri Lukshmi Naarasimhan.  Frankly, I was not impressed at all by this establishment, instead I usually prefer to visit Komala Vilas or MTR for my South Indian fix.  Well, a lot has changed since my original review of this eatery.  Firstly, the owners decided that the name Sri Lukshmi Naarasimhan was just too short, so now it goes by the name Sri Rajya Lakshmi Narasimhan House of Vegetarian Dining - Quite a mouthful.  Secondly, the entire eatery was renovated sometime back.  I have heard a lot of good things about this establishment since my original review, so I decided to visit again to see if they have improved.

Sri Rajya Lakshmi Narasimhan Vegetarian
Location: 438 Serangoon Road
Contact: 62927740
Opening Hours: Daily 7.00am-3.00pm & 5.00pm-10.00pm.  Closed Wednesday

There is no question that the place has changed a lot.  Now it looks very neat, and much cleaner.  Not only that, but the service level has improved.  Now it has a much more homely feel.  Lakshmi Narasimhan is actually a local brand, unlike most of the Indian eateries in Singapore.  At one point, they had four separate outlets in Singapore - But now just this one remains.
One thing that hasn't changed is the menu, which offers the typical South Indian specialities.  One unique aspect of their cooking is the use of Andhra Pradesh style of cooking, and particularly the Andhra 'gunpowder' (more commonly known as kandi podi or karve pakku podi), which is a spice mix (masala) used specifically in this region of India.  They are also famed for their filtered coffee, which acts as a brilliant crescendo to the meal.  Amazingly, most the food here has no onion and garlic.  Only the Andhra meal and dosai contain onion and garlic.
We kicked off the meal with Medhu Vadai, which is one of three different varieties of vadai on the menu.  Medhu vadai, which is also known in other regions as ulundu vadai is apparently (I am assuming) different to normal vadai in some way, but frankly I can't tell any difference.  I did fully enjoy these sinful crispy savoury doughnuts though.  I find that the Komala Vilas vadai is still slightly better (especially when freshly fried), but these come as a close second.

Price: $1.80 (1 piece).     7/10

The most filling meal on the menu is certainly the Andhra Meal.  This elaborate feast is a myriad of flavours on one plate.  For vegans like myself, you will have to alienate yourself from the curd (white coloured) and sweet dessert, everything else is vegan friendly.  I loved all the dishes served here, which highlight sour and spicy flavours predominantly.  An Indian thali (at its best) should be a fireworks display of flavours - Totally the opposite to cuisines like Chinese and Japanese - Which is why I love Indian food so dearly.  This thali certainly ticks all those boxes.  Price is a little steep, but consider the fact that, like with all thalis, you can top up everything (including the rice) until you are bursting full.

Price: $10.40.     8/10

As an accompaniment to the thali, red pickle and ghee is served on the side.  Needless to say, if you're vegan you will want to avoid the ghee.  The Indian pickle, however, is an essential component (in my opinion) to any thali.  It is ridiculously sour and brings to life all the other flavours.

Last and certainly not least is the Hot & Spicy Andhra Masala Dosai.  Objectively,  I would have to say this is one of (if not the) best dosai I have eaten in Singapore.  The texture of the dosai skin was absolutely perfect - Crispy, yet not too brittle.  One will notice that this dosai is actually slightly red in colour - This is because the dosai is smeared with Andhra chilli paste underneath when being cooked.  This chilli may be too spicy for some, but I loved it.  The chutney was ideal, the only thing stopping this dish from being a ten was the potato masala.  The masala was a little bland and forgettable.  No question that this is an astonishing dish though.  Price is high, but it is worth it.

Price: $6.80.     9/10

Conclusion - Being a food reviewer, I am always open to visiting places a second time, and for this restaurant I am glad that I did.  It has improved considerably since my first visit, and now I can see myself being a regular customer here.  The prices are on the high end, but still not to the level of criminal extortion of Ananda Bhavan on Syed Alwi Rd.  The hot and spicy dosai is the dish you should be ordering - I still can't stop thinking about it.

Overall Rating
Food - 8/10
Ambiance- 7/10
Service - 8/10
Value - 5/10
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