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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

Sunday, March 8, 2015

D'life Bistro & Cafe - Commonwealth

At the beginning of every year, we see a new crop of hopeful vegetarian eateries open their doors in Singapore.  One of the more interesting new additions is D'life Bistro & Cafe, which is located in the old Commonwealth Crescent estate.  D'life is actually under the same owner as Zi Zai, and you can even see the waiters wearing Zi Zai shirts in the bistro.  Interestingly, the same owner actually opened a D'life outlet in Kuala Lumpur last year, he is now bringing this new concept to Singapore.  The letter 'D' represents 'destiny', as the owner believes it is his destiny to promote vegetarianism through his eateries.

D'life Bistro & Cafe
Location: #01-29 Blk 118 Commonwealth Crescent
Contact: 97491714
Opening Hours: Daily 11.00am-10.00pm. 

The interior is superb, and surely ranks as one of the best ambiance one can find in Singapore for vegetarian eateries.  Imagine Real Food and Original Sin have a baby - This is what the D'life ambiance is like.
Lovely relaxed outdoor seating, which is surprisingly cool.  The only thing that is missing is some relaxing jazz music to complete the feeling.  Music would cover up the noise of the wok too, which can be quite loud.
Wonderful design.
As this bistro only opened in February 2015, the menu is still in its developmental stages.  The positive thing is that they have chosen to not use mock meat in any of their dishes.  The negative is there is egg in a lot of dishes, and it is not stated on the menu - This is asking for complaints if not changed.  It would be good if they stated which dishes are vegan also (which I have been informed they plan to do in the future).
Here is the back of the menu.  They also have cakes (non-vegan) and ice cream (vegan - from Brownice).
Beyond Veggie is now no longer the only place you can visit for a good fruit tea.  D'life have now adopted a very similar tea menu, which also focuses on fruit teas.  I picked the Fruit Tea Pot, which is primarily boiled orange and passion fruit (and a lot of sugar).  I've always had a soft spot for these kind of drinks, so it is safe to say I enjoyed this a lot.

Price: $8.90.     7/10
On to the mains, and we start off with the D'life Signature Fried Rice.  This dish was not as spicy as I anticipated, and overall the rice had good flavour.  The grains were a little broken up, but it still looked great on the plate.

Price: $8.90.     6/10
My favourite dish of the meal was the Hotplate Brinjal.  The eggplant was not cooked until total mushiness, as is the case for most eggplant tze char dishes.  Instead, this deskined eggplant was cooked to the perfect point of textural resistance.  They were swimming in a tasty sauce, and went perfectly with the fried rice.

Price: $12.00.     8/10
Naturally I am going to be quite picky about my favourite Chinese dish claypot pig trotter - Or as it is known on the menu, Old-Fashioned Vinegar Stew.  For my personal taste, the ginger and vinegar was not strong enough.  Instead, the sauce was sweet and mild.  The presentation was excellent, and the claypot was packed to the brim with ingredients.  I would have liked to have seen the monkeyhead mushroom cooked inside the stew, so that it could have absorbed the sauce.  I liked the use of black beans, which people forget is often present in a traditional claypot pig trotter.

Price: $10.00.     6/10
Probably the most disappointing dish of the meal was the Spicy Tofu.  The sauce of the dish was quite confusing.  It tasted like sweet and sour sauce that has had curry powder mixed into it.  Definitely the sauce can improve, but the texture of the tofu was great, I love the presentation too.

Price: $9.00.     6/10

Conclusion - D'life offers the perfect ambiance for gatherings and get togethers.  If you want to bring your friends, and show them that vegetarian food is not boring, then D'life is a great place.  I just wonder if the location is suited to having such a trendy eatery though.  Whatever the case, having run Zi Zai for years, I am sure the owner knows best, and I forsee D'life being another one of his success stories.

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

Friday, March 6, 2015

Vege Food Hub - Woodlands

This post represents Hong Yun Food House part two.  As I mentioned in my previous review of Miao Lian, it is extraordinary to find a food court or coffee shop in Singapore that has two vegetarian stalls inside - Hong Yun Food House is one of those.  This stall only opened up in December 2014, and still rather comically has the non-vegetarian 'Grill or Grill' sign at the top.  In fact, the first time I visited this food court, I totally missed this stall due to the signage (or lack of).  Once again, I must stress that you shouldn't be fooled by the name 'industrial', this food court is within walking distance of Woodlands MRT - Even better, this stall opens until 10pm six days a week.

Vege Food Hub
Location: #01-11, 35 Marsiling Industrial Estate Road 3
Contact: Unknown
Opening Hours: Daily 4.30pm-9.30pm.  Closed Sunday 

CLOSED DOWN - As of 25/09/2015

The menu at Vege Food Hub is much more comprehensive compared with Miao Lian.  In fact, it is almost a restaurant standard menu, which is incredible for an industrial food court.  Most the 'special' dishes are available only after 2pm - This was done so not to clash with the other vegetarian stall in the food court (which closes at 2pm).  Before 2pm there is double boiled soup and a lunch time set meal.

The trio that run this stall are all relatively new to the vegetarian F&B scene.  The gentleman in the middle is the cook, while the two aunties beside him operate the front end of the stall.
If you're visiting before 2pm then the options at Vege Food Hub are a little more limited.  Aside from the soups, they have the Set Lunch, which consists of rice, soup, vegetable and mock meat.  

Price: $5.50.     7/10
Years ago, I would have probably ranked Chinese soup and congee as two of the dishes I hated the most (I still hate congee).  Then, around a year ago, Chef Wai (Onn Vegetarian) totally reshaped my perception of how good a Chinese soup can be.  Vege Food Hub have a number of daily double-boiled soups, with Watercress Soup being the one I selected.  This soup was certainly above average, and ranks similarly to San De Green at Yew Tee Point.  It doesn't come close to Onn, but having said that, they are not using mock meat in the soup here and less salt - So they deserve credit based on that.

Price: $4.00.     7/10
Next dish is a local classic, Hor Fun.  Comparing Miao Lian's wet hor fun and Vege Food Hub's dry hor fun it is quite a close contest.  Overall I would say Miao Lian is the winner (slightly) as the wok hei is stronger, it is a dollar cheaper also.  Nevertheless, this dry version was also decent enough.

Price: $4.00.     6/10
The Season Fish Steak with Spaghetti was next.  This dish was a mixture of highs and lows.  The broccoli was cooked well, and the mock fish fillet was one of the best I have tried.  The soy 'meat' was succulent and flavourful.  The big let down was the spaghetti.  It was swimming in some odd Chinese gravy, the only word I can think of is 'weird'.  Chinese cooks need to either learn how to cook Italian food or don't have it on the menu.  Spaghetti is not difficult to learn, it requires just a little outside reading to produce a simple spaghetti dish - Yet, no vegetarian chef in Singapore seems to be able to do it.  Enough whinging, still a dish worth ordering for the fillet and broccoli - Nicely presented in the bento also.

Price: $6.50.     7/10

Vege Food Hub have a couple of monkeyhead mushroom dishes (one of my favourite ingredients), the one I picked was the Monkeyhead Mushroom with Sze Chuan Sauce.  Don't be fooled by the name, although the name Sichuan is there, this dish is not spicy at all.  In fact, it tasted more like black pepper monkeyhead more than anything else.  The texture of the monkeyhead was delicious, and overall this was an enjoyable dish.

Price: $9.00.     7/10
Last dish we sampled was the Crispy Golden Duck.  This mock duck is handmade by the chef, and was one of the best mock duck/peking duck that I have tried in Singapore.  I remember many years back splurging on the 'famous' peking duck from Eight Treasures and feeling extremely disappointed.  That memory was still in my head when I tried this dish, so my expectations were subconsciously low. Having said that, I was genuinely impressed with this dish.  The center had more substance and chew, with the outer batter having that lovely brittle crunchy texture.  Great value for the price, it is half the price of Eight Treasures (and in my opinion tastes better).  Definitely a dish worth trying!

Price: $6.00 (large size is $12.00).     8/10

Conclusion - In the realm of vegetarian hawkers/coffee shop/food courts the food is often guilty of being repetitive.  The same dishes, cooked the same way, with the same flaws.  I really respect the menu that Vege Food Hub has been able to produce, so that customers can try special dishes, without having to go to a restaurant.  The food overall was excellent, I just hope it can be appreciated by the workers and other visitors who frequent this food court, as this kind of food is a little out of place in the context of the location.

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