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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bespoke Japanese Vegetarian Dining - Bugis

Once in a while, a new vegetarian restaurant pops up that will be sure to get the vegetarian communities hearts beating faster.  Bespoke, otherwise known as 'Teng', otherwise known as...Well, this is one big problem, it is difficult to know what name to give this place.  There is no clear name on the outside of the restaurant, moreover it doesn't state it is vegetarian either.  Aside from that design flaw, the interior design of this restaurant is fantastic.  Unfortunately, when we arrived that night, the restaurant was completely empty (see 'Conclusion' for the reason why).

Bespoke Japanese Vegetarian Dining
Location: 91 Bencoolen Street, #01-50 Sunshine Plaza
Contact: 63377050
Opening Hours: Daily 11.30am-3.00pm & 5.30pm-10.00pm

Comparisons are inevitably going to be made with Zen Japanese, which at one time was one of the most popular vegetarian restaurants in Singapore.  Menu wise, there are a lot of similar dishes being offered at Bespoke.  If anything, Bespoke's menu is even more vast, compared to Zen.  Price wise, it is also very similar to Zen.  There was only one dish currently unavailable, which was the unagi - Which, ironically, was the dish I was most eager to try.  Even without the unagi, this is an incredibly diverse and detailed menu, which will leave you spoilt for choice.

One big positive that Bespoke currently has is their staff, the waiter is kind and friendly, and was very patient in adjusting the food to suit my vegan needs.  After completing our order, the waiter recommended that their Traditional Ocha (green tea) would make for an ideal accompaniment to our food.  This tea is apparently made from the traditional loose Japanese green tea leaves.  Quite frankly, I couldn't taste a big difference compared to just a regular green tea teabag - But I'll take their word for it that these are special leaves.  Seven dollars entitles you to unlimited refills.

Price: $7.00.      7/10

For vegan customers, you will find that a lot of the dishes contain dairy (usually in the form of mayo), therefore be sure to check with the waiter, so that those particular ingredients can be excluded.  The Avocado Maki was one such example, that has mayo (with egg) within the maki roll and dolloped on top.  I asked for half to exclude mayo and half to be served as normal (as I was eating with my ovo-lacto friend).  Presentation wise, all the dishes from Bespoke are beautifully displayed on the plate, special care was taken in cutting the avocado into thin strips, which looked picture perfect.  Inside the maki was mock sashimi, mock prawn, cucumber and nori.  The dish tasted subtle, fresh and creamy (thanks to the avocado).  Most importantly, the rice texture was firm and not over-cooked.  An impressive start to the meal.

Price: $12.00.     9/10

Bespoke has a number of set meals, that go up as high as $36.  I went for the Green Tea Soba Set, which was one of the more affordable set meals.  Portion wise, it was definitely big (not big enough for the Hungry Ang Mo, but for someone with 'normal' stomach space, I am sure it would be enough).  The focal point of the dish is the green tea soba, which was absolutely delicious.  The soup was flavourful (some may find it too salty - For me it was fine) and ingredients well cooked - I especially loved the tempura batter bits that were swimming inside.  The other components to the set included stir-fried vegetables (cooked magnificently), sushi, salad, green tea pudding (non-vegan) and rather oddly, a cheese and tomato fried spring roll (non-vegan) - Which seemed a little out of place, if you ask me.

Price: $18.00.     8/10

I ordered several other dishes, which the chef simply put together on one plate, so let us go through them now...

My first selection was the Smoked Duck with Mushroom.  This dish consists of layers of mock duck and king oyster mushroom, which were then drizzled in a dark, rich, mildly sweet and (too) salty sauce.  The mushrooms were cooked perfectly and packed with juice.  The 'duck' slices were a little too salty, but did have good smokey flavour.  When consuming the mock duck, it reminded me of the thin BBQ pork strips that are sold in such barbaric abundance in Singapore. 

Price: $12.00.      7/10

Next up was the Beancurd with Natto.  Natto is highly controversial, with most people detesting the taste of it.  For all the debate on the taste, no one can deny the health benefits of these fermented soya beans.  For this dish, the natto is sandwiched in between two thin triangular beancurd sheets.  When dunked into the special yuzu sauce, the taste was definitely decent.  However, I found the portion size was definitely too small to justify the price.

Price: $6.00.     6/10

Probably the most disappointing dish of the evening was the Teriyaki Chicken.  The major reason for this was the salt level in the dish.  Not only the sauce, but the mock meat itself had way too much salt content.  I also found that just two skewers was a little merciless, considering the price tag.  The positives were that the mock meat was well charred, and (minus the salt) did have good flavour.  Not a dish that I would consider ordering again though.

Price: $6.00.     5/10

Conclusion - Bespoke would benefit from better marketing, otherwise I am worried for their future.  The Japanese vegetarian market has the potential to be hugely successful in Singapore, but Bespoke need to know how to sell their strengths first.  With no facebook, website, clear restaurant name - It will be difficult for them to gather attention from the public.  With that being said, I was definitely impressed with the food they were selling.  I guess this makes their lack of marketing all the more frustrating, because I firmly believe these dishes deserve to be enjoyed by the mass population. 

For my SECOND Bespoke review - Click HERE!

Overall Rating
Food - 8/10
Ambiance- 9/10
Service - 9/10
Value - 6/10

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shan Ba Guo Wang - Red Meat Durian

This post marks the beginning of my durian blogging experience, and I thought I would kick things off with my personal favourite durian stall in Singapore.  Most people know that I live in Sengkang.  Therefore, when durian season is on, the nearest place where I can find decent durians is Hougang.  The person who owns this stall is a personal friend of mine, thus I am lucky that he picks out the very best for me.  But even for unknown buyers, he takes great care in selecting the best, and giving a fair prices (unlike other durian sellers along this stretch).

Shan Ba Guo Wang 'The Best Durian'
Location: Blk 684, Hougang Avenue 8
Contact: 98862556 (Ah Teck)

The types of durians on offer at this stall is entirely dependant on the month.  Many years ago, durians had a clear high and low season.  But now that division has become blurred, with many species of durians peaking as early as March, and some lasting as late as November/December.  Now there are only a few months (such as January and February) where all species of durian are not in season.  Pricing from this stall also varies (as it does with all durian stalls) depending on the abundance of the species, and once again, time of the year.  In March, it is more of a challenge to get dirt cheap durians (Jun-Aug is best for low price and high quality) - Nevertheless, good quality durians can still be found, but you might have to pay a slightly higher price than usual.  If you're someone that has sudden durian cravings like myself, then price becomes irrelevant, in order to get a durian fix!

This particular visit was in late March, and thus the Hong Rou was in season.  This species is one of the sweetest I have tried so far, with there being almost no bitterness to it.  The flesh is a little watery, and certainly not as creamy as species like mao shang wang.  Additionally, this species has an average amount of flesh, and a large seed.  Flavour wise, this durian would be heaven for those that prefer a sweet durian.  Due to its slightly watery flesh, this durian would be ideal after being refrigerated, so that the flesh can harden a little.  A delightfully sweet taste and subtle durian aroma makes this a perfect durian to introduce someone who is not familiar with the fruit, and perhaps trying for the first time.

Price: $12/box.     7/10

Conclusion - Shan Ba Guo Wang durian stall always has two price options, in terms of durian.  Larger boxes of more high quality durian are sold around the region of $10-$16 per box (of course these are not fixed prices).  For the slightly lower quality, you can pick up much cheaper, at three boxes for $10.  This cheaper priced durian is a completely different species (on this particular day it was a species named Yi Li).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Yi Xin Vegetarian Food - Bukit Batok

I return to Clementi to review another delightful little vegetarian stall.  Yet again, this is another vegetarian stall named 'Yi Xin', which (along with 'Nature') is the most common name for vegetarian stalls in Singapore.  This stall should not be confused with the Yi Xin that is located at Clementi Avenue 4.  I really enjoyed eating in this particular coffee shop.  So often in Singapore, we associate our eating areas with hustle and bustle, rushing our food, and noise coming from all directions.  This coffee shop is the exact opposite to that.  A quiet, small, and, dare I say, tranquil eating house that is mainly filled with laid-back uncles and foreign workers.

Yi Xin Vegetarian Food
Location: Blk 328 Clementi Avenue 2
Contact: 84015559
Opening Hours: Tue-Fri until 8pm.  Saturday until 2pm.  Monday closed.


UPDATE 13/02/2014 - This stall has now left Blk 217, can anyone confirm if it has moved elsewhere or closed down? 

It had been a while since I indulged in vegetarian Bak Kut Teh, so this was the dish I chose.  Contrary to the name, there is no actual tea in this dish.  Instead, the soup base consists of a variety of spices that are all subtly married together over a long boiling period.  I found the flavour in the soup of this dish to be a little weak.  What did impress me was the variety of ingredients used, with a myriad of vegetables, mushroom, beancurd and mushroom stem mock meat floating inside.  Thick yellow noodles are used by default in this dish, but customers can feel free to change to a different variety of noodle.  Overall a pleasing dish, I just wish the soup base had a stronger flavour packed into it.

Price: $3.00.     7/10

Conclusion - One of the nicest coffee shops I have been to in Singapore, and certainly one I would return to, simply for the peaceful ambiance.  Food wise, although I would have preferred to have sampled more dishes, the bak kut teh was definitely decent.

Overall Rating
Food - 7/10
Ambiance- 9/10
Service - 6/10
Value - 6/10

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

San De Vegetarian Food - Yishun

Having reviewed Zi Zai the previous day, I found myself back in Yishun again.  This time I trotted across the road in search of more vegetarian delights in the area.  My search led me to this small little stall, directly opposite from Zi Zai.  Although just a simple stall, the menu is pretty elabourate.  Without further delay, lets find out what the food is like from this stall.

San De Vegetarian Food
Location: #01-1005, Block 256, Yishun Ring Road
Contact: Unknown

Opening Hours: Daily 6.00am - 10.00pm

I opted for a simple Brown Rice and Dishes meal.  I would consider myself quite picky when it comes to ordering brown rice.  Firstly, I am sick to death of stalls mixing in 50% white rice into the brown rice to save on cost.  If I am paying more for brown rice, I want 100% brown, not a mixture.  Secondly, I found the rice from this stall was also too mushy.  I order the vegetable curry, potato and tofu to go with the rice.  I found that the curry was flavourful and not too spicy, the potato had a rich flavour, but was a little too salty.  Overall, a pleasing meal, but the main staple (the rice) was a significant let down.

Price: $3.00.     6/10

Conclusion - I will definitely consider coming back to this stall, to sample some of the other dishes they have to offer.  For anyone reading this who has previously visited San De, what are your personal favourite dishes?

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Weng Ji Vegetarian - Chinese Gardens

As promised, 2013 will continue to be the year I explore the West of Singapore in great detail.  I stumbled upon this next stall by accident, and couldn't resist giving it a try.  After all, most of the best food in Singapore can be found in these slightly run-down hawker centres on the outskirts of the island.  Weng Ji specialises in just one type of dish, the classic bee hoon and dishes.  Which is synonymous for being a common breakfast dish in Singapore.  If a stall is selling just one dish, then needless to say, I expect that dish to be of a high quality - So lets find out if it was...

Weng Ji Vegetarian
Location: #01-188, Blk 347 Jurong East Ave 1
Contact: Unknown
Opening Hours: Daily 6.00am-5.00pm

The Vegetarian Bee Hoon on offer at Weng Ji certainly strays away from the conventional style that I am so used to.  This rendition has a number of ingredients, such as long beans, mock fish, mock ham, dried beancurd, green chilli and cabbage.  I was impressed by the quality of the long beans, which were crunchy and juicy.  Also, the mock meats all had a delectable smokey aroma.  The bee hoon itself was firm and bouncy, but lacking in flavour slightly.  Something different (an indicator this is a more classical bee hoon) is the ingredients are swimming in a shallow soup/sauce, which is largely flavourless. 

Price: $2.50.     7/10

Conclusion - My journey into the world of vegetarian food in the West is just beginning, but this stall already highlights that there are decent vegetarian stalls lurking in the West, it is just a matter of finding them!

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

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Vegetarian Express - Kovan

The vegetarian industry in Singapore is terribly difficult to break into, with there being countless cases of stalls/restaurants closing down within a few months.  The newest kid on the vegetarian block is Vegetarian Express.  Location wise, Vegetarian Express makes a wonderful addition to the Kovan area, which has been known as one of the most awful places to be in Singapore (as far as finding good vegetarian food).  For more information on this establishment, heading to their facebook page would be a good start.

Vegetarian Express
Location: #02-04, 205 Hougang Street 21, Heartland Mall
Contact: 63835672

Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 11.00am-9.00pm.   

For such an incredibly small kitchen, Vegetarian Express offers a surprisingly wide array of dishes to choose from.  However, I do have some issues with the pricing of some dishes.  The list of vegetable dishes represent some of the most expensive dishes on the menu.  Moreover, I found it quite merciless to charge $0.30 just for warm plain water.  The redeeming qualities are that there is no GST or service charge added.  But, I still find the overall pricing a little high, especially as Kovan is considered the outskirts of Singapore.

The first dish to be reviewed is the Nori Roll.  This finger food dish dispels the stereotype of sushi being healthy.  Within the nori roll is a mock meat not too dissimilar to ngoh hiang.  Still not unhealthy enough?  The sushi is then deep fried.  Certainly the frying of the sushi creates a new textural landscape to the dish, making the nori skin more brittle.  For vegans who are anxiously looking at my photo and wondering if the mayonnaise on the plate egg free - It is.  Personally, I prefer the fresh and healthy nori wraps, and additionally I found the portion size a little on the small side.

Price: $3.00.     5/10

Next dish was the Lotus Root and Peanut Soup.  For those wanting to escape from the monotony of high salt, high spice and high oil foods that make up most of Singapore cuisine, then this dish may scratch that itch.  For myself, this soup is a little too bland.  I was also disappointed by the texture of the peanuts and lotus root, which were both too hard.  This is a sign that the soup has not boiled for long enough.  A simple soup, which would be better suited as a side dish to rice and dishes.  If you prefer milder flavours, this dish may appeal to you.

Price: $4.80.     5/10

The next dish selected was placed in the 'vegetable' section of the menu, and goes by the name Monkeyhead Mushroom.  Cauliflower, broccoli, sugar snap peas, carrots, sweetcorn and (of course) mushroom represented all the ingredients lurking in the sauce.  Speaking of the sauce, I found it to be overly starchy and needing a stronger kick of ginger flavour.  Monkey head mushrooms are probably one of my favourite things to eat, so I was delighted to see the chef was quite generous with the amount on the plate.  A decent dish overall, especially in comparison to the others that I sampled on that night.

Price: $6.80.     6/10

The final dish from this culinary adventure was the Pork Belly Rice.  This dish has one very glaring flaw, which I am sure anyone and everyone who orders this dish will notice - Too much salt.  Not just a little bit too much, I am talking in terms of a ridiculous amount of salt.  Personally, my tolerance for salt is quite high, but even by my standards, this is way too much.  The epicentre of the salt comes from the sauce, but the fried mock pork also has a high level of salt.  The mock pork texture is welcoming, with there being an intriguing layer of mock fat, which is texturally very similar to the real thing.  Nevertheless, any positives were clouded by the critical levels of salt.

Price: $5.80.     3/10

Conclusion - In terms of quality of food, I must admit my trip to Vegetarian Express was a pretty disappointing one.  The pork belly rice, in particular, had an unacceptable amount of salt that rendered it almost inedible.  I sincerely hope that improvements are made, so that Kovan has an outstanding vegetarian place for those poor souls that live around that area.

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

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sincerity Vegetarian Food - Yishun

I decided to escape the mindless destruction 'development' that is happening to my beloved Sengkang/Punggol area, and head back to Yishun for an affordable vegetarian meal.  This particular hawker centre is opposite from the Chong Pang CC.  There are actually two vegetarian stalls within this hawker centre.  The other (which I didn't have stomach space to try) is on my hitlist, next time I am in the area.  Rather frustratingly, Sincerity Vegetarian Food had most of its dishes unavailable, with certain dishes being available on different days of the week.  Inregardless of the limited menu, this stall is extremely popular during lunch and dinner hours, so be prepared to wait.  Daily specials include - Nasi briyani (Sunday), Mee Siam (Saturday), Mee Rebus (Thursday & Sunday), Laksa (Tuesday), Chicken Rice (Wednesday) and Duck Rice (Friday).

Sincerity Vegetarian Food
Location: #01-168, Blk 104 Yishun Ring Road, Chong Pang Food Centre
Contact: Unknown

Opening Hours: Daily 5.00am-2.30pm 

Nasi Lemak, a dish made famous for its mixture of coconut rice, meat patties, ikan bilis and peanuts.  This dish has spawned many different varients from Singapore and Malaysia, and is widely known as one of the most synonymous dishes of this region.  This particular version was quick, cheap and tasty - Just how a good nasi lemak should be.  The fish patty in particular had nice lemongrass flavour.  The peanuts and mock ikan bilis (derived from dried beancurd) added a welcome crunchy textural contrast.  Also, rather pleasingly, the red chilli paste was not too overwhelmingly spicy, instead having a slight sweetness and wonderful aroma.

Price: $2.80.     7/10

Conclusion - It is a little unfair for me to give an accurate verdict on this stall based on one dish.  Unfortunately I don't have the time to visit on different days of the week to try out each of the 'daily specials' - However, for my beloved readers who live near to Chong Pang, please take the time to leave a comment and let me know the quality of the other dishes.

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

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Divine Vegetarian Family Restaurant - Hougang

September 27th 2009 marked one of the greatest days in the history of Singapore - The Hungry Ang Mo published his very first post.  Over three years later, I decided to return to the roots of my very first post, which was this cosy Chinese restaurant in Hougang.  It felt somewhat surreal returning back to the origins of my blog, especially so as the look and feel of this restaurant remains exactly the same.  Speaking of the look, a lot of people see the signboard and confuse it with Divine Realm, which is also in Hougang - These two eateries are completely different and have no connection to each other.

Divine Vegetarian Family Restaurant
Location: Block 356 Hougang Ave 7 #01-803
Contact: 64877895
Opening Hours: 7:00am to 10:00pm

Since my first review, there have been price adjustments, with a lot of the dishes increasing in price.  With that being said, I still find that all the dishes are pretty reasonably priced.  Inflation is happening everywhere, so we can't be too surprised nor critical to see the price of dishes continue to increase over the years in Singapore.  I often find myself laboriously listening to people whinging about $3 dishes being too costly - Give me a break - If they knew how much rental and ingredients cost in Singapore now, I am sure they would be less critical.

A dish that I ordered all those years ago was the Crispy Noodle.  In England, this dish ranks as one of the most popular, although in the West it is known as 'chow mien', which locals rather clumsily pronounce cho mayne - I mock, yet I used to be one of those people.  One issue I have is crispy noodle should always be in a bowl, not a plate.  The customer must mix the noodle and gravy together in order to alter the texture of the noodles, and on a plate, this can prove quite cumbersome 麻烦.  The flavour of the dish was good, and overall I really enjoyed it.

Price: $3.50.     7/10

Another reason for my return to Divine was to sample a dish that was kindly recommended by a reader named Lixuan.  The dish that she was adamant I try was the Sliced Fish Bee Hoon Soup.  Lixuan was definitely wise to suggest this dish, as it tasted absolutely delicious.  The aspect of this dish that I was most fanatical about was the soup.  The fish flavour was incredibly strong, yet not too salty - Perfect for a rainy evening (which it was).  The other ingredients inside were mock fish, tomato, vegetables and seaweed.  For those who have chosen the vegan path (like myself), be sure to make it clear you do not want milk added to this dish.  If you do not make this clear, then the default dish will have milk added into the soup.  With or without milk, the dish still tasted very nice - So do your arteries a favour, and take the fat and cholesterol (aka milk) out of this dish.

Price: $3.50.     8/10

Conclusion - It brought a smile to my face to retrace history and visit this eatery again.  Moreover, it made me even happier to taste two good quality dishes.  The crispy noodle was decent, but the fish bee hoon soup should be what motivates you to head there immediately after finishing this wonderful review...Ready...Go!

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