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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nomvnom - Clarke Quay

I am back again to review another new face from 2015.  Nomvnom is a vegan restaurant specializing in burgers and fast food.  Hold on, wasn't there another vegan fast food burger eatery in Singapore?  Yes, Vegan Burg.  Hold on again, weren't Vegan Burg previously located at this exact same address?  Indeed they were.  If you feel skeptical about these two apparent coincidences, you would be right.  Nomvnom is a 100% vegan eatery, with no onion or garlic in any of their food.

Location: 50 Market Street, Golden Shoe Car Park, #01-28D
Contact: 97526125
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri 10.30am - 8.30pm

UPDATE: Location now at #B1-44, 6 Eu Tong Sen St (The Central)

Nomvnom was created by Ng Wai Lek, who was previously the manager/director at - Wait for it - Vegan Burg.  This is, of course, a shining example of the ugliness of business, and how the golden rule applies to anything and everything in life - Don't trust anyone.  Either that, or use black and white paperwork to your advantage.  A none compete clause (NCC) being the best way to prevent your staff from copying your concept.  I'm not going to go into the details of the blow by blow between Vegan Burg and Nomvnom, but needless to say it is not pretty.

The Nomvnom poster displays a number interesting points about their food - No MSG, no egg, no trans fats, no onion/garlic and no original concept.  To be fair, I did like how the burgers combined a worldwide spectrum of flavours, such as kimchi, hummus, daal, truffle and otak.  But how well do these flavours match in burgers?  Lets find out...

Here is a look at the complete menu.
Similarly to Vegan Burg, you can order the burgers as a set meal or individually by themselves.
I picked out the Truffle Fries to start my meal.  Truffle fries have become one of Singapore's latest culinary trends over the last few years, although to be frank, most the truffle fries I've tried in Singapore are utter garbage, with super low quality rancid tasting truffle oil being used.  Nomvnom decided to take a slightly different approach.  Instead of tossing the fries in truffle oil, they instead added a truffle sauce on the side for you to dip the fries into.
Here is the truffle sauce which accompanies the fries.  I must say the sauce itself was well done, with a distinctive strong truffle flavour.

Price: $5.90.     7/10

Sweet Potato Fries are also available. 

Price: $4.50.     7/10
The first burger that I tried was the Mammoth Truffle.  I like the idea of using truffle sauce and double patty in a burger, and the flavours matched quite well together.  One key mistake Nomvnom has made (in comparison to Vegan Burg) is their bread.  Burgers need a bread that has a degree of firmness to it, otherwise it will wilt under the weight of the ingredients, and what you will get is a mess.  Nomvnom have opted to go with the soft delicate Asian style of bread making, which really can't work for burgers.  One bite and it was almost like the food version of Jenga, with all the ingredients slipping/falling everywhere - This is how important bread is!  I also tried the potato croquette burger, which I forgot to photograph and had the same problems with that burger.  This burger has potential when the bread is altered.  The truffle sauce can be reduced also, as the sauce is also guilty of making it messy.  This burger is the nightmare meal for a first date!

Price: $12.50.     6/10

The one burger I tried which was the easiest to eat was the Nom Nom burger.  The nom nom burger is the most basic burger, but it was the one I enjoyed the most.  As mentioned, I didn't have to fight to keep all the ingredients from falling out of the burger, and the taste of the patty was enjoyable.  This is the burger I would order again next visit.

Price: $5.50.     7/10
Conclusion - Is there anyone reading this post that cares about business ethics (unless it concerns themselves)?...Nope, didn't think so - In which case, I do recommend checking out Nomvnom.  Some improvements need to be made in their burgers, but it seems like they are on the right track overall.  Vegan Burg was once the most talked about and successful vegan/vegetarian eatery in Singapore for a reason, and their food was not one of the big reasons.  Vegan Burg thrived due to brilliant marketing and promotion of their brand, and really over-achieved when you see their product.  Nomvnom are going to be facing a Everest-esque climb to reach that level...

Overall Rating
Food - 7/10
Ambiance- 5/10
Service - 6/10
Value - 6/10

Friday, April 24, 2015

Veganation - Clarke Quay

Anyone who opens a vegetarian/vegan eatery in Singapore is facing an uphill task, words can not describe what a difficult business F&B is.  The gradient of this uphill task will be all the more steeper if one is to move next to an already successful vegetarian eatery.  For Veganation, there is no question that moving within touching distance of Real Food is a daring move.  Will they be able to pull it off?  Let's find out...

Location: 6 Eu Tong Sen Street. The Central. #B1-40
Contact: 97977591
Opening Hours: Daily 11.30am - 8.00pm

UPDATE 17/08/2015 - Veganation is now indefinitely closed, it is unknown whether or not they will reopen again.

Veganation are starting off small, it is a take away counter only, with no seating.
One of the people in charge is (owner has requested his name to be removed as of 03/07/2015, he will be referred to under the pseudonym Dr X for the rest of this review), who for many months was under the tutelage of Hassan at Fill-a-Pita.  He is even using Hassan's signature falafel pita on the Veganation menu.
The goal of Veganation is to cherry pick the signature dishes of many countries all over the world, and place them onto one menu.  Currently the menu is quite simple, but there are dishes from Israel, Germany, Egypt, Vietnam, Mexico, Spain, USA and UK.
First dish I selected was the USA Burger.  Overall this was the best dish I tried from Veganation.  The lentil burger patty was soft and had just the right amount of firmness and the burger bun texture was better than what I expected.  Inside the burger was lettuce, tomato, BBQ sauce, mustard and chilli sauce.  Better sauces could have been used, instead of generic supermarket brands such as Masterfoods and Heinz.  The lettuce could have been fresher as well.

Price: $6.00.     6/10
Next, a dish that is close to my heart UK Shepherds Pie.  Obviously being from UK, this was a dish I recall eating frequently, especially during the colder winter months.  Regrettably, I have to say this was a very poor rendition of shepherds pie.  The flaws lie to two areas - Firstly, a good shepherds pie should be moist, not dry.  I suspect the pie was left out for too long, hence the moisture from the potato was gone.  Secondly, the pie seemed to have just one prominent flavour - Bitterness, which I was scratching my head as to where/how bitterness found its way into this dish.  Oh, and it was cold too...

Price: $8.00.     2/10

Lastly, we have the Spanish Paella.  Although not as bad as the shepherds pie, this dish was still a disappointment.  Once again, it fell victim to being left out in the open for too long, so it was both cold and the moisture was sucked out of the food (this will happen if you leave rice exposed for too long, hence the invention of the 'keep warm' function on rice cookers) - Occasionally sprinkling water onto the rice would help to avoid this.  Also this dish is a far cry from Spanish paella, which should be a potluck of different flavours and ingredients lurking inside.  This dish more closely resembled tomato rice, and didn't warrant the $8 price tag.

Price: $8.00.     4/10

Conclusion - Veganation are still very new, so I am trying to be as gentle as I can in this review.  Dr X seems like a friendly and dedicated individual, so it does pain me to say frankly that the food is not up to scratch.  I think Dr X and his colleagues need to learn the basic fundamentals of the dishes they are producing first, and if the culinary expertise/skill is not strong, then keep things simple - This is the key to success of eateries like Fill-a-Pita.  Franchising a second Fill-a-Pita stall at this location would have been a better idea...

Overall Rating
Food - 4/10
Ambiance- N/A
Service - 8/10
Value - 4/10

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Zi Zai Vegetarian - Boon Keng

Many will remember a long long time ago, when HAM was just a baby, I did a couple of reviews on a restaurant called Forest Dew.  One review back in 2009 and another in 2011.  Well, fast-forward another three years since my last review, and things have indeed changed.  Forest Dew is no more...In terms of the signage at least.  This restaurant has been taken over by the owner of Zi Zai - Taking over eateries is somewhat of a hobby of his, as he has also recently acquired Mai Zhi Su in Ang Mo Kio as well.  Who knows, maybe I will be getting an offer for him to take over Hungry Ang Mo soon too?  Kidding aside, I went to Zi Zai interested to know what changes might have been made, whether for the better or worst - Let's find out...

Zi Zai Vegetarian
Location: #01-523 Blk 23 Bendemeer Road
Contact: 62939579
Opening Hours: Daily 10.30am-10.00pm. 

One thing has clearly changed - The decor.  The look and feel of the place is very similar to Zi Zai's latest brain child D'Life.  As with D'Life, the decor is tremendous, a vast improvement compared to the old design.  One thing missing (as with D'Life) is music, it would really bring more life into the place, and mask the sound of the wok.  Interestingly, although the decor and name has changed, Zi Zai is using the same menu that Forest Dew used (it even still has the name Forest Dew on it).
First dish was the Green Curry Fried Rice.  I was going back and forth on this dish.  In terms of green curry, I've been a little spoilt recently, indulging in Chef Wai's mind-blowing green curry cod fish.  So subconsciously my expectations are high, and thus this green curry rice didn't have enough kick for my liking.  Having said that, I did find the rice was very well cooked and there was suitable green curry flavour in the rice.

Price: $7.00 (δΈ­).     6/10
One of the dishes the waitress highly recommended was the San Bei Tofu.  The tofu was fried well, but frankly I didn't like the texture of the tofu itself.  It had that weird almost jelly-like texture, which felt really artificial to me.  The sauce was decent enough, but they should change tofu supplier.  The most disappointing dish of the meal.

Price: $9.00.     6/10
I must admit, the urge to order anything green (except green curry) seldom goes into my head when eating out.  Nevertheless, I kept an open mind for this Fried Water Cress, and I'm glad I did.  This dish was easily the best of the meal.  To me, there is only one way to enjoy Chinese vegetables, and that is fresh tze char style straight from the wok to the plate.  This watercress had incredible flavour, and was cooked to the perfect texture.  The sauce was not too overpowering, and I liked the addition of the small pieces of TVP.  Definitely a dish I would recommend you order.

Price: $6.00.    8/10
Lastly, we have the Savory Brinjal.  Eggplant is without a doubt one of my favourite ingredients, but I can't tolerate it when it's undercooked.  To my relief, for this dish the eggplant was cooked just enough, verging on undercooked but still passable.  Still, I would have enjoyed it more if it had that soft melt in the mouth texture.  The sauce was strong and had just the right amount of spice.

Price: $7.00.     7/10

Conclusion - Zi Zai have recently sparked a lot of controversy for reasons I am not going to go into in this post.  My objective opinion on purely the food is that it is a little hit and miss, but overall the food is at a better quality, compared with most vegetarian eateries.  The staff (for my personal experience) were good and the decor is fantastic.  Boon Keng/Bendemeer has a lot of options in terms of vegetarian, but Zi Zai is one I could see myself frequenting.

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Murugan Idli Shop - Farrer Park

When it comes to Indian food, I would consider myself a connoisseur.  I am willing to pay higher price for better quality genuine Indian food, and I will frequent only the best places.  Considering just South Indian vegetarian food, there are a few excellent places that come to mind - Komala Vilas, MTR and Sri Laksmi Hocuspocuslalalareallylongname being the ones I rate most highly.  But there is another one - Murugan Idli Shop.  I reviewed Murugan back in 2009.  But upon visiting again, I don't believe that review did them justice.  Murugan was first conceptualized 45 years ago (then under the name Murugan Coffee Nilayam) in Mandurai, India selling coffee and snacks.  Subsequently, 20 years later the owners son S. Manoharan took over the business (in 1991) and expanded.  They now have 15 outlets in Chennai alone.  Another three in Mandurai, one in Vellore and three in Singapore.  For this review, I feature their most famous Singapore outlet on Syed Alwi Road - Enjoy!

Murugan Idli Shop
Location: 81 Syed Alwi Road
Contact: 62980858
Opening Hours: Daily 9.00am - 11.00pm

The menu offers a simple yet eclectic mix of South Indian food.  For Buddhist vegetarians, take note that virtually everything on the menu contains onion/garlic.  The prices are higher than most, but what you pay for is quality.  If you're non-vegan then the ghee podi idli is a must try.
After placing your order, immediately your 'plate' is brought to you.  The experience of eating South Indian food on a banana leaf with your right hand is one of life's true pleasures.  The 'plate' is empty to begin with, then whatever you order is subsequently placed onto the banana leaf.  Each banana leaf has Murugan's famous four chutneys.  Consider this an outright threat, do not dare eat this food with fork and spoon, it is an insult to the food.  Your right hand should be your only utensil if you want to enjoy and understand this cuisine to its fullest.

It would be a bit strange to go to Murugan Idli Shop and not order an Idli right?  Idli is one of those Indian snacks that confuse me.  In a cuisine so full of flavour and colour, idli is the one rare exception.  It is virtually tasteless by itself, made from rice and black lentils, which is grounded, fermented and then steamed.  The simplicity of this snack also make it one of the rare healthy Indian foods.  Idli is best eaten by pinching off a piece and dipping it in each chutney, almost like a mad painter dunking his brush in the palette.  Indian food does not celebrate individual flavours, it is more of firework display, where you get a bit of everything in every bite.  The idli from Murugan is soft and delicate, and you can really feel the freshness.  Idli is not my favourite Indian food, but there is no question that Murugan produce the best idli I have ever tried.

Price: $1.75/pc.     8/10
The main item that keeps me coming back to Murugan is actually their Masala Dosai.  I've eaten a lot of dosai in my time, ranging from the hopeless and horrible to the exceptional.  Murugan's masala dosai is the best I have ever eaten.  There are two key components which make this one of the greatest dishes I've eaten.  Firstly, the dosai batter and texture - A great dosai should have strong notes of sourness and saltiness.  The sourness coming from the fermentation of the batter.  Moreover, this dosai is the perfect texture, it is crispy, yet not too brittle, still having that glorious chewy texture.  Secondly, the potato masala almost caused me to faint when consumed.  The texture is creamy and thick, almost like mashed potato, and packed with flavour.  This work of art, when combined with the four chutneys is the closest one can come to food nirvana.

Price: $4.70.     10/10

Here is a closer look at the colour and texture of the potato masala in the dosai - Just incredible.  I ate three in one sitting last time I visited.

If you're looking for something a little more simple, you can opt for the Plain Dosai (although I would strongly recommend going for the masala version instead).  As I previously mentioned, the texture of this dosai is perfect and I love the enhanced amount of sourness from the fermentation of the batter.

Price: $3.60.     8/10

Conclusion - Since my first review of Murugan almost six years ago, I must say that I was wrong about this place.  Over the years, my ability to appreciate their offerings has grown, to the present point, where I would dare say they are one of the best vegetarian eateries in Singapore.  Eateries like Murugan make me so thankful I live in Singapore and can experience all the multitude of different cuisines this country has to offer.  If you have not visited Murugan, you owe it to yourself to experience it.

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jadeite Vegetarian - Bugis

One of the new kids on the block for vegetarian food in 2015 is Jadeite Vegetarian.  Having first heard about Jadeite from Facebook (you can find their page here), their branding made me think that Jadeite was in fact a higher end vegetarian restaurant (similar to Sufood or Herbivore etc).  Therefore, it was quite a surprise to find in reality it is just a small cozy little cafe with only about six tables.  Nothing wrong with small and cozy, but the Jadeite branding doesn't quite match the establishment in my opinion.

Jadeite Vegetarian
Location: 470 North Bridge Road, Bugis Cube, #03-21
Contact: 91956939

Opening Hours: Daily 11.00am-8.00pm.  Sat 11.00am-5.00pm.  Sunday Closed.

Based on the description on the Jadeite website 'We serve a wide variety of traditional and modern vegetarian dishes to suit all taste buds' I must admit that I was expecting something more, and was a tad underwhelmed when looking through their menu.  The menu is quite simple, with less (both in terms of quantity and imagination) dishes compared to a typical vegetarian shophouse stall. 
It is also crucial to take note that egg is lurking in many dishes at Jadeite.  Even dishes such as 'Pork Chop Rice' contains egg in the mock meat.  Luckily enough, the staff working there is intelligent enough to warn customers about this in advance.  For most eateries (especially those run by aunties and uncles) they will be using mock meat with egg in a lot of their dishes (even those stalls that claim there is no egg in their food).  Moreover, dishes such as wanton mee are again not suitable for those who can't take eggs.  Make sure to ask, clarify, and double confirm.
First dish I picked was the Penang Kway Teow.  Having lived in Penang for many months, eaten countless variants of kway teow, and learnt to cook the dish myself from Penang vegetarian cooks - I must say that this version is not authentic to how Penang kway teow should be.  The key to Penang kway teow is the savoury salty taste and the abundance of dark sauce.  This version did have suitable flavour, and was not as bland as its pale look might suggest.  However, it needed more dark sauce (I don't believe any at all was added), chilli, and needed to be cooked on a more intense heat.  Not a disaster, but not a true Penang kway teow either.

Price: $5.00.     6/10
I initially wanted to order the pork chop rice, but after finding out that it contained egg, I switched to the Sambal Fish Rice.  The mock fish and the Chinese celery went very well together.  The chilli had a good kick to it, but the sauce was too one dimensional for my liking.  I enjoyed the fried cabbage.

Price: $5.50.     6/10
Lastly, we have the Chicken Cutlet Rice.  The mock chicken used was the deep fried crunchy chicken style, which were coated in a sweet and sour style sauce, once again with white rice and fried cabbage.  The sweet and sour sauce was decent enough, and I've always liked that chewy sinful mock chicken.  Not much skill or creativity shown in the dish, but decent enough.

Price: $5.50.     6/10

Conclusion - The most captivating thing about this eatery is the branding.  Describing itself as a 'traditional and modern vegetarian bistro' it certainly excites ones imagination.  Bizarrely though, in reality this eatery is serving a basic menu, with simple dishes.  Perhaps in the future they intend to expand the menu significantly, who knows.  For now though, I wouldn't feel inspired to return again.

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