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

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy Life Vegetarian - Aljunied

Many people will remember Loving Heart Cafe, which rebranded itself several times and eventually closed down for good late last year.  Well, the spot which Loving Heart previously occupied has now been taken over by another vegetarian eatery called Happy Life.  Many may already be familiar with Happy Life, who prior to opening this shop house were selling their food in the Kwan Inn coffee shop located in the same block further down.  This shop house opened on the 1st January 2015, and currently have a limited menu while they are getting started and finding their feet.

Happy Life Vegetarian
Location: Blk 134 Geylang East Ave 1, #01-219

Contact: 92985283/67475711
Opening Hours: Daily 8.00am-8.00pm.  Closed alternative Wednesday. 

As I just mentioned, the menu at Happy Life is currently limited to six items.  The great thing about this eatery is that everything has been assured to be 100% vegan - No dairy or egg in any of their food.  This stall has built up a reputation for their nasi biryani.  Rather frustratingly, unless you come at exactly 12pm, most of their dishes are not available.  Better managing of food preparation time and stocks would be better, so that their food can be available during other hours.

The owner of Happy Life is a gentleman named Daren Lai.  During his youth, Daren was a meat eater, but his diet (and life) changed drastically after walking past a cafe that was distributing free Buddhist material outside their shop.  Daren picked up the Amitabha Sutra and shortly after (in his twenties) became a full time vegetarian.  Before getting into the vegetarian industry, Daren worked in security.  He opened his stall at Kwan Im around five years ago.  Daren is originally from Malacca, Malaysia.

If you would like a warm drink, then I suggest taking the Matcha Soya Drink.  Great value and nice smooth texture and sweet taste.

Price: $1.50.     7/10
Porridge, oh how I loathe you.  Rice porridge is one of the few Chinese dishes which I really can't appreciate, no matter how hard I try.  So needless to say this Pumpkin Porridge was really facing an uphill task in trying to convert me.  Did it change my perception of porridge?  No.  But, I will concede that this dish was passable.  I liked the pieces of fried pumpkin on top (all the garnishing was excellent) and the porridge itself was well seasoned.

Price: $3.00.     6/10
Although most of the dishes at Happy Life are $4, they still represent excellent value overall.  The portion size is huge.  I'll start with the negatives for this Nasi Lemak.  Firstly, the rice quality needs to improve, the grains used were broken and not particularly well cooked.  Secondly, the mock fish used was really dreadful, some of the worst quality mock fish I have ever tried.  The positives are that (although the rice quality was poor) the rice was flavoured very well.  The long beans were tasty and I loved their atcha and peanuts.  Although this dish is not perfect, it is definitely worth ordering considering the price.

Price: $4.00.     7/10

Based on the reputation of their Nasi Biryani, I was eagerly waiting for it to arrive to the table.  I've eaten a lot of nasi biryani in my time, including the famous (and, in my opinion, best) Tanaka Mr Goh rendition, which is available only once every few months.  Compared to the super high standards of Tanaka, this version falls short - However, it is better than most.  The weakness of this dish is in the rice.  In fact, the way this rice is prepared is more like nasi kunyit (turmeric rice), not nasi biryani.  The true biryani rice should be exactly how Mr Goh does it at Tanaka.  Despite this weakness, the peanuts and curry sauce were perfect.  The sauce was rich and not too spicy.  I love how a poppadom is added, but it was literally dripping in oil, which frightened even a hardened hawker eater like myself.

Price: $4.00.     7/10

Conclusion - Happy Life have just opened up, but from what I've seen (and after talking with Daren) I am expecting good things to come from this eatery.  Daren is very polite and courteous, but his mafia auntie staff seem a little on the hostile side, so customer service is an area open for improvement.  Food wise, there are improvements to be made also, but overall I already see this eatery is heading in the right direction.  Definitely a place worth visiting.

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

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Lovecipes Vintage Cafe - Penang

Last year, I embarked on an epic journey of Penang, Malaysia to unearth all the superb vegetarian delights that the island holds.  For today's review, I feature the very first eatery that I visited on this long three month exploration - Lovecipes.  This is a calming and trendy new eatery, which only recently opened.  They claim to use the freshest ingredients in their cooking.  More information can be found on their website here.

Lovecipes Cafe
Location: 42 Jalan Rangoon

Contact: +60 14-306 9942
Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 11.00am-3.00pm & 6.00pm-10.00pm.  Closed Monday

The setting of Lovecipes is very nice, with a rustic homely feel about it.
Ok, I have to admit that visually this thing looks a little grotesque. These Lor Rolls look like a pair of decaying intestines.  Inside these beancurds rolls one can find chestnuts and mushroom.  The price is a little on the high side for such a small item.

Price: RM8.00.     6/10
Next dish was the Kong Bao Lion's Mane Mushoom.  For this dish they are using monkeyhead mushroom (also known as hedgehog mushroom) - Personally nothing beats monkeyhead in terms of juiciness and texture, it is really one of the best ingredients vegetarian cooks can use.  The sauce in this dish was strong and flavourful, and matched the mushroom and other ingredients well.

Price: RM14.90.     7/10

If you want a vegetable dish, then you may want to consider ordering the Steam Lady Finger with Homemade Asam Sauce.  As the ladyfingers are steamed (unlike most places, who fry them) it does make this dish considerably more healthy.  Although this dish is more healthy, I didn't find the taste to be particularly impressive.  The ladyfingers were a little too firm, and there was not enough asam sauce to make this dish tasty enough for my liking.

Price: RM8.90.     5/10
Another dish I was a little underwhelmed by was the Oatmeal Abalone Mushroom with Curry Leaf.  I didn't like the brittle texture of the mushrooms, and would have preferred them to be more juicy.

Price: RM12.90.     5/10
Last dish of the evening was the Asam Curry.  These sort of curries will always put a smile on my face, I love the strong flavourful spices used, the lemongrass and galangal particularly stood out in this curry.  The ingredients were cooked well, and overall it was a very satisfying dish.

Price: RM12.90.     7/10

Conclusion - Food wise, Lovecipes can improve more.  The quality of vegetarian food in Penang is increasing sharply, so during my three month stay in Penang, Lovecipes was one of those eateries that became easily forgotten.  Having said that, I did love the ambiance of the place, and the staff seemed very polite and friendly.

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

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 Vegetarian Food Round-up and Awards

2014 Vegetarian Food Round-up and Awards

What a year 2014 has been for food.  We have seen a lot of impressive new vegetarian eateries open up in Singapore.  It constantly impresses me how people are willing to slog for 12 hours (or more) in uncomfortable conditions just to serve vegetarian food to the public, and reducing the killing that takes place in this world.

As I did last year, I want to do a quick round up of my personal highlights of blogging this year.  This is just my personal opinion based on the places I have reviewed in 2014 only.  If you have an opposing view point, I welcome your input in the comments section below.

Best Vegetarian Eatery
Winner - Onn Vegetarian
In the grand scheme of things I still find that overall Gokul is a slightly (and I mean slightly) better eatery, but there is no doubt in my mind that Onn is a close second.  2014 was the year that I found Onn, who rank clearly as the best hawker/coffee shop stall I have ever frequented.
Review: HERE

Best 100% Vegan Eatery
Winner - Loving Hut
I was never impressed by the Loving Hut brand in Singapore in the past.  Their menu and items were totally unexciting to me.  Having closed down all their previous outlets, 2014 was the year they opened one central branch, which was a significant improvement to their previous outlets.
Review: HERE 

Best Overseas (non-Singapore) Eatery
Winner - Pun Pun Vegetarian Restaurant
Seen as though Chiang Mai is an increasingly popular tourist destination with Singaporeans, you really must visit Pun Pun.  I would pay the airfare and accommodation just to eat at Pun Pun breakfast, lunch and dinner.  One of the greatest eateries I have ever visited in my life.
Review: HERE

Best Vegetarian Dish
Winner -Spicy n Sour Fish (Onn Vegetarian)
When I was looking at this category, I definitely knew the dish was going to be an Onn speciality - The tough choice was deciding which one.  In the end, I went for the Spicy n Sour Fish for a few reasons.  Firstly, it is just a mind-blowing concoction that literally almost caused me to fall off my chair.  Secondly, it exemplifies everything that Chef Wai is so great at - Sourness, spiciness and piping-hot freshly cooked food served immediately from the pan to customer.
Review: HERE


Best Vegetarian Hawker 
Winner -Onn Vegetarian
There could only be one winner in this category.  All the more amazing considering no MSG is used in their cooking.   Blows every other hawker out of the water.
Review: HERE

Best Value for Money
Winner - Fill-a-Pita
Definitely one of the most memorable moments of 2014 for myself was discovering Fill-a-Pita.  Run by former high-flying banker Hassan, Fill-a-Pita brings vegetarian Middle Eastern food to the masses.  His pita and other items are very affordable for the size, and so filling.
Review: HERE

Best Newcomer
Winner - Sufood
Sufood brought its super-rich billion dollar Taiwanese franchise to Singapore in 2014, and they hit the ground running and never looked back.  Like true professionals, they opened their restaurant prepared and were offering unique and affordble fusion style cuisine.  Personally, I didn't find the food that impressive, but there is no doubting the impact they have made.
Review: HERE 

Best Restaurant Ambiance
Winner - Nature Cafe
After existing in Bukit Merah for over a decade, 2014 was the year that Nature really decided to spread its wings and test out new grounds.  Both their Aperia and TradeHub outlets have some of the most amazing renovation work that I have seen. Definitely a wonderful place for gatherings and other events.
Review: HERE

Best Service
Winner -Hassan El Nahas (Fill-a-Pita)
For my money, no one can beat Hassan when it comes to serving customers.  He gets to know all his customers on a first name basis, he is attentive to their needs, and truly cares about the food he is serving to his customers.  It doesn't get better than his in terms of service.
Review: HERE

Most Inspirational Figure
Winner - Jeanna & Shanna (Mummy Yummy)
Again this is another really tough category for me to give a verdict on.  I meet countless hawkers/owners and every one of them has their own fantastic captivating story, on why they do what they do.  In the end, I picked Jeanna and Shanna, who in 2014, opened a cafe selling food at just $1.  Their primary work is feeding the homeless in Singapore - Using money from this cafe (as well as other donations) to fund this project of delivery food (vegetarian only) to the needy.
Review: HERE

Friday, December 12, 2014

86 Vegetarian Food - Tiong Bahru

Earlier this year I made my way to Beo Crescent to review a stall called Mei Jing Vegetarian Food, run by former temple cook Ah Kiat.  Well, little did I know, there is actually a second vegetarian stall at the block opposite from Mei Jing.  I was only made aware of 86 Vegetarian when the daughter of the stall owner messaged me and urged me to head down and visit.  Sure enough, I recently went down to check out their food.  86 Vegetarian is located in a really small and quite uncomfortable coffee shop, quite unlike the more modern coffee shops, which one is more used to.

86 Vegetarian Food
Location: Blk 40 Beo Crescent

Contact: None
Opening Hours: Daily 7.00am-1.00pm.  Wednesday Closed.

Along with rice/bee hoon and dishes (of which, there is not a large amount of dishes to choose from), each day 86 Vegetarian has a special dish.  The special dishes and days sequence are as follows:-

Monday: Chicken Rice
Tuesday: Mee Siam
Thursday: Laksa
Friday: Bak Kut Teh
Saturday: Kway Chap
Sunday: Lontong

I was there on a Friday, and didn't feel like rice and dishes, so I picked the Bak Kut Teh daily special.  Personally, what I look for in a good bak kut teh is an intense herbal flavour (subtlety is lost on me).  So far, the best bak kut teh I've tried is from Simple Food, due to that aforementioned reason.  For this bak kut teh, there were a nice variety of ingredients inside, such as mushroom mock meat and carrot.  I also loved the Chinese celery.  It was the actual bak kut teh broth that was a let down though - It was just too weak and watered down for my liking.

Price: $2.50.     6/10

Conclusion - I wouldn't mind visiting 86 Vegetarian Food again to check out their other daily specials.  The bak kut teh was good enough, but nothing special.  If you're in the area, do check this place out!  Be warned though, this is one of the most uncomfortable and generally dingy coffee shops in Singapore - Better to da bao.

Overall Rating
Food - 6/10
Ambiance- 4/10
Service - 7/10
Value - 7/10
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