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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Choo Zai Zhai Vegetarian Food - MacPherson

It is safe to say, out of the myriad of vegetarian stalls that frequent 79a Circuit Road - Choo Zai Zhai has the most significant following. I was scowering the internet to find any customer feedback about Choo Zai Zhai and was pleased to see a new vegetarian food blogger, titled 'ieatgrass' has reviewed this eatery late last year. You can check out her review (and her site in general) - Here. Grass was certainly not something my stomach was itching for on this particular evening, so I was looking forward to sampling the many dishes that this eatery had on offer.


Choo Zai Zhai Vegetarian Food
Location: 79A, Circuit Road, #01-89
Contact: 67457934
Opening Hours: Daily 11am – 11pm

Unlike many of the stalls at 79a, which sometimes close without reason, Choo Zai Zhai can usually be quite reliable with its opening and closing times. Another key difference that distinguishes this eatery from most stalls in the area is that - Choo Zai Zhai actually has quite a detailed menu, with there being countless Chinese dishes for the customer to deliberate over ordering. These include more economical dishes, such as hokkien mee, mui fan and fried bee hoon (all $3.00). These cheaper dishes are mixed with others that can double in price, such as claypot tofu, hot plate meat and sweet & sour porks ribs. The menu definitely could benefit from more accurate English definitions of the dishes, as dishes simply called 'celery' barely gives away any information about the contents of the dish (apart from that it will certainly have celery in it).


Needless to say, I wasn't tempted by the 'celery', and instead, begun this dining experience with the Oyster Omelet. Those that have had vegetarian oyster omelet before, will know that the mock oyster in this dish is actually a species of mushroom. An essential ingredient to a good (or even acceptable) oyster omelet is the use of sweet potato starch, which I sensed was missing from this. Texture wise, was an additional disappointment, as it was not chewy. Instead, this resembled carrot cake more than an omelet. The only savoir was the chilli sauce, which had superb aroma and a welcoming amount of sweetness.

Price: $3.00. 4/10

Second dish of the evening came in the form of the Beef Hor Fun. Again, this was another below average dish. I don't like poorly cooked hor fun, which is unfortunately what I was served here. The noodles had a very gluey and sticky texture, which I found off-putting. Moreover, the noodles were attached to each other, thus render the dish having clumps of noodle. The mock 'beef' was derived from gluten - For health sake, I would have been happier to see mushroom stem mock meat. All in all, this was more like a kway teow soup, than a hor fun dish. Another one you'd be sensible to avoid.

Price: $5.00. 5/10

Conclusion - If you'd made it this far through my review, then you will obviously sense that I wasn't very impressed overall at the quality of the food at Choo Zai Zhai. This eatery really falls in the same category as the rest of the vegetarian stalls in the food centre. Yes, it is fantastic to have a food centre which has such a wide array of vegetarian options to choose from. However, if I was hoping to display to someone how delicious vegetarian food can be, I definitely wouldn't bring them to Blk 79a - Where the food will either be average, or well below average.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Honzen Cafe - Farrer Park

I'm a little late getting to Honzen Cafe, but better late than never. I was recently approached by Straights Times who were running an article on the increase in vegetarian places in Singapore, and the reasons why. The answer to that is simple - There is a new breed of strictly health influenced vegetarians/vegans who have converted due to the exposure of health consequences attributed to meat consumption. Which is why, eateries that put health as their prerogative are on the increase in Singapore - An example of one of these restaurants, which have embarked down this path will be the focus of today's review. Honzen Cafe is away from the epicenter of vegetarian eateries in Bugis, instead, it is around a 10 minute walk from Fortune Centre (vegetarian mecca). Upon entering customers are greeted by friendly (mainly Myanmar) waitresses, with wide smiles.




Honzen Cafe
Location: 470 North Bridge Road *Now moved to 41 Sam Leong Road
Contact: 63330478
Opening Hours: Mon - Sat 11am to 9.30pm


The most optimum healthy eatery should fit into two criteria - Organic and vegan. Although a high majority of the dishes at Honzen Cafe are vegan, unfortunately it is not 100%. Moreover, there is no mention of the food being organic, so I think we can safely assume it is not. The menu looked beautiful, with there being a compact yet diverse selection of dishes to choose from. At the time of writing this, Honzen Cafe has a promotion for Chinese New Year where you must upgrade main course meals to include tea/coffee and dessert (for $12.90). Nothing should even be forced onto customers - This should be something that is optional. Nevertheless, with a small amount of restraint, they will be happy to revert back to the original price - So no real damage done.

I decided to kick off this food sampling bonanza with one of the cheaper side dishes. This is the Salted Bites. To translate this title into something a little more coherent, this dish is basically dry Taiwanese style fried mock chicken. In total there were six pieces. Presentation wise, the dish looked nice, with cherry tomatoes, lettuce and thousand island dressing all occupying room on the plate. Flavour wise, the mock chicken was not too greasy and had the ideal texture balance of crunchy, yet still maintaining a salivating level of juiciness. Some might argue that for merely a side dish the price is a little high, but there can be no complaints about the quality.

Price: $3.90. 7/10

Next we have one of Honzen Cafe's real flagship dishes, the Honzen Special. This dish, along with the honzen paradise meal (which was not available) are assorted mixed rice dishes. It comes with brown rice in the centre, and several small tidbit dishes circling around it. In addition, there is also clear tofu seaweed soup. The essence of this style of dish is simple, uncomplicated and natural flavours - Which is something I am encouraging of. For those who are used to heavy salt, oil and sugar in their diet, however, this will be a largely bland experience. One aspect of the dish that was unquestionably packed with flavour was the black fungus, which was stewed in vinegar - Fantastic flavour, which resembles the famous Cantonese dish zhu jiao cu.

Price: $8.90. 7/10

To diversifying this review, I also ordered one of the Western offerings. Here we have the Hamburger Set. The fries were soft and crunchy and sinfully delicious, but again chilli sauce was the accompaniment instead of ketchup (I can never understand that). The hamburger had a tasty mock chicken patty, but the let down was the hamburger bun. The bottom of the bun absorbed a lot of moisture from the heat of the patty - Thus, it was soggy. Who likes soggy bread? Well, if you do, you have serious palate problems. I would have preferred the bun to be toasted slightly.

Price: $7.90. 6/10

The final treat for this evening was the Rendang Rice. Rendang, which was believed to have been created by the Minangkabau tribe of Indonesia, is a largely dry lemongrass infused meat curry. Its origins date back all the way to the 1500s. The traditional version of this dish is very heavy on salt and oil. It was pleasing to taste this rendang, as it was not too salty - But there was still a hefty amount of oil used. I must confess, I was disappointed by how little pieces of mock meat were found lurking in the curry. Flavour wise, it was certainly spicy, so perhaps not a dish for those with fragile stomachs.

Price: $7.90. 6/10

Conclusion - While Honzen Cafe is not going to drop any jaws in regards to its originality or menu, this is nevertheless a solid inclusion to the vegetarian scene in Singapore. Honzen Cafe seems to be trying to find the middle ground between healthy food and sinful food - As it seems to display characteristics of both. Value wise, the food certainly doesn't come cheap, but the ambiance of the eatery is clean and fresh. Although recently opened, Honzen Cafe seems to be successfully attracting a diverse range of customers, so overall it seems this place will continue to thrive.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Meng Heng Vegetarian Food - MacPherson

Although there is a myriad of vegetarian places located within the 79a hawker centre, often the stalls specialise in only a couple of dishes. This is certainly the case for Meng Heng Vegetarian Food, which has gained a heady reputation for its wanton mee. There are other dishes available though, such as laksa and hokkien mee. However, seen as though the focal dish of this stall is the wanton mee, it seems only fitting that I dedicate this review to this dish that has the most feverish following among customers. Customers (like myself) visiting later at night should expect only wanton mee to be sold, they are not likely to have any other dishes available.


Meng Heng Vegetarian Food
Location: 79A, Circuit Road, #01-81
Contact: Unknown
Opening Hours:
Unknown

I was itching to see if the Wanton Noodle was really as delicious as the whispers I've heard. The short answer is - It is only slightly above average. The noodles in the dish were a tad overcooked and didn't have the bouncy texture, that good wanton mee should have. The wantons appeared in a bowl of soup, and sadly the skin of the wanton was too thick. It was not all negative though, the filling of the wanton had delicious flavour, although some might find it to be too pasty. The char siew is the high quality kind, which trumps the typical doughy kind, one usually finds in hawker centres. Some good flavours can be found in this dish, but all in all, I didn't see anything outstanding that would induce me to order it again.

Price: $3.00. 6/10

Conclusion - Certainly not the worst wanton mee I've ever tried, but I failed to grasp what was so unique and special about the Meng Heng version of this classic dish. While the flavours were good, especially in the wanton filling, there were other aspects that were clearly flawed. Customers certainly seem to be flocking to this stall, though, so perhaps others are tasting something outstanding, that I am missing.

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

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tang Leng Chay Vegetarian Food - MacPherson

Back to block 79A, on Circuit Road. As I have mentioned previously, this particular block (which is within walking distance of MacPherson MRT) is packed to the brim with Chinese vegetarian stalls - So customers who visit will be spoilt for choice on what to order. Luckily I visited with a bunch of people, so was able to order from many of the stalls all at once. The auntie running this stall was very happy to see I was taking pictures of the stall and the food, and was eager to have me share news of her food. This stall has been around for over 30 years, and has a variety of dirt cheap food.


Tang Leng Chay Vegetarian Food
Location: 79A, Circuit Road, #01-716
Contact: Unknown
Opening Hours:
Unknown

Our food journey at Tang Leng Chay begins with the Fried Kway Teow Mee. Visually the dish look fine upon arrival, however, I was quite disappointed with the flavours in the dish overall. Firstly, the flavour which I adore so much is completely absent from this dish - Wok hei. This is not the only flavour missing, the undertone of sweetness that is to be expected from char kway teow is also not there. Instead, this tastes merely like kway teow with black sauce. An additional disappointment came with the texture of the kway teow, which was quite clumped together.

Price: $3.00. 5/10

We move onto the next dish, which is Chicken Rice. Price wise, there can be no complaints about this dish, which is superb value. Quality wise though, there are distinct areas for improvement. To begin with, the rice is virtually flavourless, texture wise it is clumpy too. The mock chicken is derived from beancurd, which is more healthier than the traditional gluten type. The one and only highlight came in the form of the chilli sauce, which was sweet and packed with flavour. It was not overwhelmingly spicy like conventional chicken rice chilli sauce, which was a welcome change for me.

Price: $2.00. 5/10

The final offering was Carrot Cake (Black), which was unfortunately even more disappointing than the previous two dishes. Flavour again was an issue with this dish, with there simply not being enough taste packed into the ingredients. Wok hei was practically non-existent, and it was also lacking the salted turnips flavour, which is a prerequisite for a good carrot cake. Similarly to the char kway teow, it tastes just like carrot cake with dark sauce - Too simplistic. The final downside was that the chunks of carrot cake were too big, which added an additional hindrance to the flavour.

Price: $3.00. 4/10


Conclusion - If you're looking for good quality Chinese food, then this is a place that certainly shouldn't be on your radar. The food is simply below average, with the flavour of all the dishes being poorly done. If you are, however, looking for a cheap and quick stomach fill, then this might tick the box. Not a place I would consider visiting again, though.

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

Friday, January 6, 2012

Victor's Vegetarian Food - MacPherson

Singapore without a doubt is one of the greatest countries in the world, in terms of abundance of vegetarian food. Block 79A on Circuit Road is a perfect example of just how much vegetarian food one can find in this country. 79A is a large sized hawker centre, which is around 40% vegetarian. Needless to say, one is literally spoilt for choice in this area. Victor's has a basic menu, which chiefly specializes in Western burgers (which sadly were not available on the evening I visited), satay, and otah. Hopefully when I visit next time the burgers will be available to order, as I was certainly curious to sample them.


Victor's Vegetarian Food
Location: 79A, Circuit Road, #01-83
Contact: 90025986
Opening Hours:
Tue - Sun 4pm - 12am. Closed Monday.

The Satay at Victor's comes available in many different styles of mock meat - Pork, mutton and chicken. Unfortunately the pork variety was not available. Contrary to most, I am not a big fan of the peanut sauce, which accompanies satay. Satay sauce is heavily dependent on personal preference - Some like it smooth, some like it chunky - This sauce belongs to the former. The satay sticks were delicious, they were heavily charred (just how I like them). Definitely one of the most juicy and flavourful satays that I have had the pleasure of sampling so far.

Price: $0.70 (pc). 8/10

Vegetarian Otah can be tricky to come across in Singapore, so whenever I see it, I usually leap at such a rare opportunity. Traditional otah is typically three for one dollar, so some might find this vegetarian version a little unreasonably priced. Flavour wise, their certainly can be no complaints, it has a sensational lemongrass punch, with the fragrance of pandan. This is coupled by a fine tuning of chili to add a much needed bite. The let down, however, is in the texture, which is lacking the firmness a conventional otah should have, this version is simply too mushy.

Price: $0.50 (pc). 6/10

Conclusion - It would be interesting to visit this stall again, when a more extensive menu is available. The burgers particularly looked very inviting. For what they do sell though, the satays are incredibly moreish, I could quite happily eat a big bowl of them. Vegetarian food fanatics will certainly be spoilt for choice in this vegetarian heaven location, and whilst Victor's isn't a huge standout, their satays would certainly make as a perfect side dish.


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