Western Grub

Western Grub

Everyone's favourite, be it if you are a child, teenager or an adult. Food that we will never get tired of and leave you wanting for more!
Xing Wei Chua
Xing Wei Chua

There has been quite a bit of changes to the F&B establishments that are situated along Joo Chiat Road in recent times — one of them being Homeground Coffee Roasters which had since vacated their previous space here, and is now located at Teo Hong Road. Their neighbours, C Cafe, has also since been re-branded as Nimbus as well. Going for an entire overhaul, the rebranding exercise not only sees the establishment adopting a new name; the space also has been through a major revamp — gone are the days where the cafe is decked in a minimalistic, white interior with wooden furniture and fittings and plants for a look that is close to nature. Now, the interior of Nimbus has taken on a look that is more in-line with that of cafes that are decked with a more contemporary design; think a dark green facade that leads to an interior featuring furniture and fittings with a darker wooden accent — a little more European-inspired and also somewhat more dimly-lit than what it was previously to exude a classier vibe. Nimbus also ditched on the “magic” concept that C Cafe previously had as well. The menu at Nimbus is being split into four different sections — Breakfast (available 8am to 3pm), Lunch / Dinner (available from 11am to closing), Sides and Desserts (available all day), and Beverages. Whilst some of the items (especially those from the Starters section of the menu) were carried over from C Cafe’s menu, there are some interesting additions that are newly-introduced with their rebranding as Nimbus.

Having skimmed through the menu whilst seated in the cafe, the Tuna Steak was a dish from the Lunch / Dinner section of the menu that caught our attention amongst the other more conventional items which they have to offer. The Tuna Steak is described as “Seared Ahi Tuna steak served medium rare with a sweet soy glaze, rustic potatoes and side salad” on the menu. On first look, we were quite impressed with how the Tuna Steak came in a rather sizeable slab for a dish that costs $28++. Slicing up the Tuna Steak, while we note that it was done medium rare, we felt the Tuna Steak felt a tad dry within — seemingly lacking moisture after being seared on the pan. That being said, we did like the briny, savoury flavours that the slab of tuna carried; the sweet soy glaze providing that sweet-savoury flavour combination that was utterly delicious. The rustic potatoes were also especially well-executed; coming in bite-sized chunks, the potatoes came with a crispy crust on the outside, whilst the interior is soft and fluffy; pretty on-point. The garden salad served on the side attempts to keep things refreshing here from the fish and the potatoes; the greens providing a good crunch while the tomatoes provides a burst of tanginess. Overall, a pretty decently executed item which we would least expect to have found in a cafe like Nimbus.

Having also tried the Classic Churros here, as well as the Piccolo and Flat White, we must say that we were really impressed with the effort from the folks of C Cafe in their transformation of the space into Nimbus. Not only does the space look drastically different from before and in a good way, but we also really liked how they have tried to introduce a few new dishes that are lesser seen in cafes in general — provides not only for a cosier feel, but also somewhat of a character unique to its own. Sure, there may be some room for improvement where their food is of concern, however we do think that it still hits the spot somewhat; just minor tweaks that they would probably want to look into. Our Piccolo and Flat White are both well-pulled; smooth and creamy with a medium body and an earthy flavour profile. Prices at Nimbus are a little high for some of the items; the price of the dishes in the Breakfast and the Lunch / Dinner section ranges between. $19 to $32 depending on the dish ordered — that being said, the prices are still relatively in line with what other specialty coffee establishments are charging these days. With so many specialty coffee joints being situated along Joo Chiat Road and East Coast Road, Nimbus does finally seem to be able to differentiate themselves from the others in the same neighbourhood; somewhere that avid cafe-hoppers should check out at least once to see what they have to offer.

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Heard all about the new Black Cherry that opened earlier this week — situated just across Pasir Panjang MRT Station, Black Cherry is a new Italian concept by the same folks behind La Ristretto’s at Novena that has take over the former spot of the now-defunct Kin’s Cafe (the same folks behind Kin’s Cafe currently runs Oak Coffee Co. at Upper Thomson Road. Following the same shop layout which Kin’s Cafe previously had, Black Cherry occupies two units that are by the top right hand corner of the property — one containing the kitchen, while the other consists of a small dine-in area alongside a coffee roastery and a bar counter. To accommodate for more dine-in patrons, al-fresco seating can be found outdoors just right in front of both shop units that Black Cherry has taken up — the same approach which Kin’s Cafe had previously adopted. Being a cafe with an emphasis on Italian cuisine, the menu at Black Cherry consists of sections that are dedicated to starters (think Meatballs, Burrata Salad and Seasonal Chargrilled Vegetables for the day), mains and pasta and sourdough pizza — all these being items available throughout its entire operating hours. Breakfast items such as the French Toast and Italian Ricotta Cheese Pancakes are only available between 9am to 3pm on Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays, while Bruschettas are available everyday from 11am to 6pm. Beverages available at Black Cherry includes specialty coffee brewed using beans which are roasted in-house, as well as a selection of tea, and sparkling water; alcoholics would be pleased to learn that Black Cherry also serves up craft beer from Little Creatures Brewing in pints as well.

Whilst skimming through the menu, the staff recommended us to go for their Porchetta in the Starters section of their menu — the item’s description on the menu mentions “Roasted cracking pork belly, mixed herbs, truffle mustard”; it is also noted that the Porchetta is also available on two sizes on the menu (small; priced at $13+, and the large; priced at $18+) here. Only arriving just slightly after our order of the Spaghetti Alla Carbonara has been served to our table, the Porchetta is does come in a serving of around nine pieces. First bite into the Porchetta here and it was undeniable how the skin was so crispy with a good crunch — the skin also being just savoury enough without being overly salty although this is an item that is best had whilst it is still hot; the skin is able to retain its crispy texture, though it does harden up a little once it gets a little cooler. The meat for the Porchetta is sufficiently tender and juicy; again savoury without carrying any undesirable porky stench — something which we really liked about the version that is being served here. Coming with a Truffle Mustard dip by the side, the Truffle Mustard sauce was on-point; the sauce comes with a starting note that carries an evident truffle aroma, while it ends off with a slightly earthy finishing note that came from the mustard — the Truffle Mustard dip being something which we would certainly not mind pairing up with other fried snacks such as nuggets or fries if that was a choice!

Whilst La Ristretto’s is an establishment that is more of a cafe that specialises in specialty coffee and hearty brunches, Black Cherry deviates slightly away from being just the brunch-y cafe — it does seem that Black Cherry has more emphasis in being an Italian restaurant with a secondary focus on specialty coffee instead. We weren’t expecting much on the food served here, but we found that they are serving up pretty decent Italian fare here — the Spaghetti Alla Carbonara being a rather beautifully plated rendition of the classic Carbonara that is a a favourite for most, considering how they even went to plate the dish with edible flower petals that beefs up the aesthetics of the item a little; this is not to mention how their Spaghetti Alla Carbonara features pancetta, parmigiano cheese, garlic and egg, which are all the right elements to have in an authentic plate of Carbonara. We also thought that the prices at Black Cherry are rather reasonable for the type of place that it is — the pasta and mains mostly ranging from $18+ to $21+, while the sourdough pizzas starts from $19 with prices going upwards to $26. One thing remains as a concern with the space here though — with so many concepts run by the Xchange Group surrounding Black Cherry, it does seem a little tricky for Black Cherry to be able to attract the attention of passers-by looking for a meal; a challenge that was also likely faced by the now-defunct Kin’s Cafe previously when they were occupying the same space. Nonetheless, we did spot a few expats having their meal at Black Cherry as we were on the way out of the cafe; a spot that serves up that is worth exploring at least once for what they have to offer!

Hadn’t heard much from the folks of South Union Park / Eleven Strands for a while; pretty surprised to actually find out about their latest concept, Mia, which had just opened its doors at [email protected] For those who are unfamiliar with the building, [email protected] is located just right opposite King Albert Park MRT Station on the Downtown Line; the same building also houses the original location of Kong Cafe, an outpost of La Pizzaiola, as well as Fishop Kitchen which have visited a while back. This is their very first concept that is situated within a mall; South Union Park and Eleven Strands are concepts that occupied a shophouse. Occupying a unit at a corner away from most of the other F&B establishments at [email protected], the space does carry some familiar vibes from Eleven Strands — full height windows, as well as the use of wood and cork accents in the furnishing and fittings; all that with a dark green colour scheme for some of its fittings and furnishings that is comforting to the eyes. With an emphasis on their pastas (a strength of theirs ever since their South Union Park days — especially so for their handmade pastas), Mia’s focus would be on their pasta offerings. Whilst most part of the menu has been carried forward from both the menus at South Union Park and Eleven Strands (think familiar pasta items such as the Chicken Sausage Tomate, Bacon Cream Pasta, as well as the Tarte Flambés, starters and mains), Mia does offer some exclusive items which includes the Sundried Tomato Garlic Bread, Buratta Salad, Lobster Tail Pasta and others. The list of beverages includes sparkling and still water, soda, juices, coffee and tea — alcoholic beverages are listed on the menu at this current juncture, but are temporarily unavailable as they are pending their alcohol license.

Being one of the new items that is exclusive to the menu at Mia, the Spicy Garlic Vongole Pot features elements such as white clams, tomato sauce, chilli, garlic, parsley, grilled country bread. A dish that is likely to capture the hearts of the seafood lovers, we liked how the white clams were pretty fresh here without any undesirable fishiness in its flavours; they have also been cleaned pretty well considering how there wasn’t any gritty, sandy bits within that would have an impact on the overall experience. Really liked how the mix of tomato sauce, chili, garlic and parsley went; that sauce was especially garlicky and briny yet remaining tangy — really refreshing to have on its own considering how it does open the palate really well. The addition of grilled country bread is a thoughtful touch — the bread being all crisp on the exterior yet comes with just enough tension as one chews on it for a good bite — just what is needed to mop up all that remainder of that tomato sauce clean with the bread just absorbing all that punchy goodness. A great way to start off the meal, and an item that works as plate to share across the table as well.

Have always been a fan of South Union Park ever since their opening and followed them through the years — it is indeed heartening to see how they have went from just a single concept hidden in the quiet estate of Jalan Kembangan, all the way to Eleven Strands and now, Mia. There has been many changes along the way, but their handmade pastas have been comfort food to me all these while — from that ravioli dish that I have first had at South Union Park, to that Bacon Cream Pasta with Handmade Chitarra which we had to Mia; their execution of handmade pasta has always left me more than being just satisfied. Just like how Eleven Strands was an extension of what South Union Park has to offer, Mia is pretty much their extension of Eleven Strands — a spot where their pasta dishes seem to particularly shine for those who are into handmade pasta especially. Always looking forward to what the folks behind South Union Park / Eleven Strands / Mia are up to — one thing we are certainly glad though; Mia’s location out of the three concepts definitely works better for us to make revisits for their food!

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Soft-launching earlier this week, The Apricus Coffee & Food Co. is probably a location that most folks familiar with the specialty coffee scene would take an interest in checking out. Brought by the same folks whom are behind The Populus Coffee & Food Co. that is located at Neil Road, The Apricus Coffee & Food Co. is their very first outpost that is nestled within the heartlands — they are located along the same row of shophouses where Thohirah Restaurant is situated, and are also neighbours with the outpost of Tenderfresh Makcik Tuckshop at Jalan Kayu as well. The interior of the cafe is well-designed; there are some design cues that one would be able to recognise being rather similar to that of The Populus Coffee & Food Co. — these would include the interior furnishings and fittings with the use of metallic and wooden elements for a bit of industrial chic flavour, as well as the geometrical wooden panels on some of the walls as well. Being a concept by the same folks of The Populus Coffee & Food Co., the menu served at The Apricus Coffee & Food Co. does carrying some dishes that are right off the menu at The Populus Coffee & Food Co. — think favourites such as The Populus Scramble, Spring Pancake & Fried Chicken, as well as the Dark Chocolate Sundae. That being said, there are still quite a number of items on the menu that are exclusive to The Apricus Coffee & Food Co. as well, such as The APRICUS Aubergine & Eggs, APRICUS Green Bowl, and Crispy Potato Stack; just to name a few. Beverages available here include the usual suspects where specialty coffee is of concern (brewed using beans roasted by 2 Degrees North Coffee Co.) — other beverages featured here would be the selection of artisanal and cold brewed ice teas, matcha beverages featuring Niko Neko’s matcha products, as well as freshly-squeezed juices.

Opting to go for an item off the All Day Brunch section of the menu that is exclusively available at The Apricus Coffee & Food Co., we found ourselves going for the APRICUS Chicken Stew. The APRICUS Chicken Stew features elements such as confit chicken thigh, roasted potatoes, cherry tomato confit, homemade tangy tomato curry sauce, pea tendrils and curry leaf. First taste of the stew and we found this item to be especially familiar-tasting; the homemade tangy tomato curry sauce does bear some sort of resemblance to that of the local favourite fish head curry — a version that is surprisingly lighter and cleaner without all that coconut milk, and thus easy to eat. The homemade tangy tomato curry sauce works well with of all the elements that they have included; the okra providing a good crunch and a nice colour contrast in terms of the presentation of the dish along with the Cherry tomatoes, while the potatoes provided a chunky bite without being particularly filling considering how they have been roasted for a good texture, whilst also being diced into small cubes for easier consumption as well. We were told that the preparing of the confit chicken thigh that is served in the APRICUS Chicken Stew is done similar to what one would have expected for a duck confit dish — we are pretty much sold when we found out how amazingly tender the confit chicken thigh was. The flesh fell off the bone easily; pretty much an effortless affair while the chicken has been lightly pan-seared for the slightly crusted exterior for some flavour — the flesh also being absolutely juicy whilst being at it. Overall, a very hearty dish that was surprisingly familiar to us in terms of the flavours that it brings to the table — would really liked to have a slice of bread or two to mop up all of that homemade tangy tomato curry sauce which we absolutely loved.

Some may find The Apricus Coffee & Food Co. rather similar to that of The Populus Coffee & Food Co. — The Apricus Coffee & Food Co. does carry a very familiar vibe in terms of both its environment and the food served especially for those who have previously been to The Populous Coffee & Food Co. before. That being said, we would reckon that The Apricus Coffee & Food Co. is more of an extension to what The Populus Coffee & Food Co. is — there is indeed a more adventurous play of flavours, where some of their All Day Brunch dishes do carry somewhat of a Middle Eastern touch; think elements such as labneh, babaganoush, za’atar, hummus, chickpeas etc. being used in some of the dishes here. With The Populous Coffee & Food Co. already being a prominent name in the cafe scene ever since its establishment several years ago, The Apricus Coffee & Food Co. is likely a destination in Jalan Kayu for avid cafe-hoppers to check out — one that would also be seemingly popular with those living around the Sengkang, Punggol and Jalan Kayu neighbourhoods as well. Good to see the folks at The Populus Coffee & Food Co. starting out something new after all these while — here’s wishing them all the best as they slowly settle into their official launch, and for all that is to come in the future!

Found out about the new Allo via their own social media pages recently — Allo is an establishment serving up French cuisine which has opened their doors at Desker Road just a short walk away from Mustafa Centre. They are also located just right beside the fairly new ikigai Yakitori Bar along the same street; Desker Road also is home to other establishments such as ice-cream parlour Aphrodite, as well as Super Supper — both of which we have visited in recent times. Taking up one of the shop spaces with a patio area, Allo’s decor does bring somewhat of a European vibe that features concrete-esque walls (they have used a wallpaper to achieve that look here), as well as wood and wicker dining chairs and marble-esque tables which also gives it a rather modern, yet soothing feel. The menu at Allo is split into various categories — there are sections of the menu dedicated to Soup, Appetizers, Brunch, Good to Share, Mains, Carbs and Dessert. The selection of drinks available at Allo includes a few special concoctions such as a Citrus Blue Magic that features elements such as Blue Pea Flower Tea, Yogurt Drink and Citrus Juice, as well as coffee, tea, soft drinks and juices. Allo is currently working towards attaining their halal certification; this also means all their food supplies are halal-certified, though they can be said as a “no pork, no lard” establishment at this current juncture.

Skimming through the menu, we had decided to go for the Pan Seared Barramundi with Caviar D’Aubergine & Balsamic Roasted Tomato on Vine. Being an item listed on the “Mains” section of the menu, the dish features elements such as barramundi, aubergine purée, balsamic glazed tomatoes, and balsamic reduction. Have had quite a number of barramundi dishes over the years and truth to be told, while there isn’t many ways of how barramundi dishes can be served, this was actually a pretty decent execution nonetheless — the fish itself here is sufficiently moist and flaky; really liked the crispy skin that has been seasoned with salt for a bit of flavour. Sitting beneath the barramundi is the bed of aubergine purée — liked how they have opted for this instead of the usual pomme purée since this was able to maintain the lightness of the dish, yet adds on a soft touch of sweetness that compliments the fish. The balsamic reduction helps to provide a slight tang to refresh the taste buds, while the balsamic glazed tomatoes on vine provide a burst of tangy flavours as one chews on them — a good break from the barramundi and the aubergine purée itself.

Having tried other items on the menu such as the Warm Oven Truffle Camembert with Figs Compote, as well as the Panna Cotta with Cinnamon Poached Pears, we felt that the quality of the food at Allo does resonate with its price tag — they were decently executed, and did seem to be of a good grade especially for a spot that is looking to be halal-certified in the future. Prices of the items listed on the “Mains” section of the menu ranges between $22 to $38 before prevailing charges and taxes; the pasta / risotto from the “Carbs” section of the menu are a little lower — from $16 o $24 before prevailing charges and taxes. Overall, a pretty decent spot for a girl’s nights out for a catch-up, or even as a decent spot to get to for a date especially given the ambience, though the beautiful environment inside is definitely an interesting but stark contrast from the bustling scenes of Little India / Farrer Park outside the restaurant especially on weekend nights.

Caught wind of the new Ember Charcoal Grill at Blk 332 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 — this neighbourhood steakhouse that focuses on charcoal-grilled meats takes over the former premises of the now-defunct The Workbench Bistro; also located just right beside a coffeeshop named Johnson Eatery within the same block. While we hadn’t visited The Workbench Bistro when they were still occupying the space, the interior of Ember Charcoal Grill is fairly reminiscent of cafes situated in the heartlands circa 2014 to 2015 — a little of an industrial vibe going on here that is a slightly dated when compared to the more minimalistic cafes with a touch of greenery and a contemporary design of the late. Serving two separate menus for lunch and dinner service, Ember Charcoal Grill serves up Donburi for its weekday lunch service, while dinner service stays the same on both weekday and weekends and primarily features charcoal-grilled meats served with different sauces — the same starters are available for both weekday lunch and dinner service. In addition, Ember Charcoal Grill also serves a “Scrumptious Brunch” menu on weekends from 10am to 5pm featuring typical brunch dishes; think items like the Carpresse Avocado Toast, Breakfast Cereal French Toast and Egg Benedict upon others — desserts served include several variations of waffles and croffles, as well as ice-creams, whilst beverages available here includes specialty coffee, tea in a pot, spritzer, Yakult soda, soft drinks and bottled beers.

It would be a little silly to drop by a spot specialising in charcoal grill without going for their steak. Offering various cuts of beef including the flank cut and the flat iron, we found ourselves going for the Silverfern Grass-Fed Striploin, which also comes with elements such as Shoestring Fries, Vine Tomato and Confit Garlic. Patrons can choose between a variety of sauces for the charcoal-grilled beef here; we found ourselves opting for the Jim Beam Honey Mustard to go with our order instead. Opting for medium-rare doneness for the beef, the striploin here was done with a pinkish centre — overall, the meat was pretty well-executed; not particularly gamey, and didn’t require much of an effort to chew being tender and sufficiently moist. It was also slightly flavoured by just a light sprinkle of salt that antes up the flavour profile of the beef. One could also opt to have the beef with the confit garlic as well for a punchier note. The Jim Beam Honey Mustard came with mustard seeds; didn’t feel that the booziness of the Jim Beam was particularly prominent — perhaps an attempt to keep things a little “PG” considering how there may be families bringing their kids here. Whilst the shoestring fries did look a tad plain, we liked how they were seasoned with sufficient salt for a bit of flavour — all that whilst being crisp without being particularly greasy. One thing we found really interesting with the dish was the vine tomato; choosing to serve a single tomato that is oddly dusted in icing sugar, the icing sugar did seem a little out of place in the beginning — the aesthetics somewhat reminding us of Christmas, but we found that zingy note of the tomato really go well with that slight hint of sugary sweetness just like what salt does to beef to create a unique experience.

Truth to be told, Ember Charcoal Grill did surpass our expectations — we were not really expecting much from a neighbourhood setup like this, but it was interesting to see how they are pretty creative with their menu here from the items we had, which includes the Charred Bourbon Chicken Wings and Creme Brulee Waffle as well; both being items that are served at a respectable quality for its price. No doubt the prices of the food at Ember Charcoal Grill are a little steep especially for dinner — the charcoal-grilled meats ranges from $16.90 for the Blue Ginger Roasted Boneless Chicken Leg to $25.90 for the Silverfern Grass-Fed Striploin, but they do deliver where one would be able to enjoy somewhat of a more premium western offering than what one would expect out of commercial outfits and western food stalls within coffeeshops and hawker centres. Personally, we do feel that Ember Charcoal Grill is a spot we would not mind checking out if we are residents in the neighbourhood, or even in areas that are slightly further away from the neighbourhood where they are situated — a pretty decent spot for chops and steaks conveniently situated within the heartlands.

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Checked out the new D’Vine Cafe which is situated at 149 Tyrwhitt Road — located just right beside Sweet Cheeks Gelato’s outlet along the same stretch and also just opposite Chye Seng Huat Hardware (itself now pretty much a landmark in this neighbourhood), D’Vine Cafe is the latest addition to this neighbourhood. With an interior that is decked with wooden furnishing and fittings, the space can be said as warm and inviting — the faux greenery hanging form above does help to provide a closeness to nature that brings life into its space. The menu at D’Vine Cafe is pretty much what one would expect out of a cafe that serves food alongside specialty coffee — it is divided in several sections, comprising that of All Day Brunch, Mains, Sides and Sweets. Beverages available at D’Vine Cafe includes specialty coffee; some of which being their signature concoctions — think Osmanthus Latte and Iced Tiramisu Monster Latte with Tiramisu Cap, as well as iced and hot teas.

The food items listed on the menu at D’Vine Cafe can be said pretty much as conventional cafe fare — an example being the Kimchi Loaded Fries and the Creamy Baked Mac N Cheese which we had both went for. Whilst the Creamy Baked Mac N Cheese would probably appeal to those whom prefer heavier-tasting food in general, the Kimchi Loaded Fries would work out as an item that is likely to go with most tastebuds. Sure; the composition of the dish is fairly simple — think elements such as sriracha mayo, kimchi and spiced cheese, but we did appreciate how it wasn’t doused in heaps of sauce despite coming not only with kimchi, but also with two different types of sauces. The fries were well-executed; sufficiently crisp whilst not being greasy, while it works well with the sauces in general and being a vehicle for everything that sits above it. It is noted that the spiced cheese listed in the description of the item is more of a nacho cheese sauce; the entire mix of spiced cheese, sriracha mayo and kimchi provides for a savoury note with a slight touch of spiciness with a zing — pretty appealing since the kimchi also give a refreshing crunch that refreshes the taste buds from all the sauces and fries. Generally, a crowd pleaser that does get a little difficult to stop once one starts to dig in.

With specialty cafes these days moving on from conventional brunch fare and towards more progressive forms of contemporary cuisine, D’Vine Cafe’s menu may be seen by some as a little uninspiring without much surprises. While some of the items do look more like a compilation of elements on one plate, we were pretty satisfied with the various items we had ordered here — pretty much good comfort food that would work for those who aren’t too picky with how simple the items are. We were actually pleasantly surprised by the quality of the coffee we were getting as well; whilst most of such establishments do not serve coffee that is on par with cafes that are part of the third-wave coffee movement, D’Vine Cafe did serve up a mean Osmanthus Latte that is well-pulled — one with decent latte art which is smooth and creamy, comes with a somewhat medium body and an earthy flavour profile that makes for a good base to the floral notes it carries. No doubt they do seem to carry less character to the more established players within the same neighbourhood like Chye Seng Huat Coffee, Apartment Coffee and Two Bakers just to name a few, but they did certainly make for a more than just decent alternative location for those who can settle with the dishes that they offer here.

Visited the new Social Smoker recently for dinner — a new barbecue restaurant that serves up artisanal wood-smoked meats good for a communal setting; think the likes of establishments such as Red Eye Smokehouse at Cavan Road and Decker’s Barbeque at Robertson Quay. Social Smoker takes over the former premises of Sin Ming Roti Prata’s second location at Jalan Leban, and is located in the first shophouse on the road that leads to the Sembawang Hills estate behind Sembawang Hills Food Centre. The entire space has seen quite a revamp; the space does have a vibe of a speakeasy bar with somewhat dim lighting and neon lighting on some of its walls; the menu here features communal platters that offers patrons a fuss-free option with pre-selected choices of meat that is good to share with portions catered to two pax, all the way to five pax. Those who are keen to do their own mix-and-match can go for the “Meat by Weight” section — essentially a la carte meats charged by weight (i.e. at 100g), whilst they also do offer sandwiches and burgers as well. A small selection of tacos are available on weekends, while they do have a list of starters to go along with their wood-smoked meats. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available — the former consisting of draught beers and craft beers, as well as cocktails and wine, while the latter comprises of a small selection of tea and lemonade options.

Was in to actually just try small portions of what they have to offer; the folks behind the counter then recommended us to order some of the a la carte meats, and also to get one of the sandwiches since we are a party of two pax. Opting for the Pork Belly Burnt Ends at 100g and USDA Beef Brisket at 100g for our a la carte meat orders, we found both meats to really well-executed. The Pork Belly Burnt Ends is that sort of item that would work well for those looking for some bar bites — the Pork Belly Burnt Ends being cubes of pork belly that has been smoked that really carried a good bite; it’s smoky, yet meaty with juicy bite, all that whilst being coated with a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce for good flavour. The USDA Beef Brisket on the other hand was especially tender and melt-in-the-mouth; slices through like a knife on hot butter — all that without being particularly gamey. We actually went with the Creamed Spinach with our choice of a starter to go with the meats and no regrets on that — they probably serve up one of the best creamed spinach around that is creamy without being particularly jelak; the spinach here also coming with a consistent fibrous texture without having pieces that are too distinctly different in size which we found to be a joy to have.

Despite being a new pretty new establishment in the neighbourhood, Social Smoker does seem to have garnered a decent following — the restaurant does seem to be full reserved for the evening on the weekend that we had visited, though we were allowed to dine-in considering they do have some time to turn around the tables before the party that had made the reservation was going to come in. It is also little wonder why; Social Smoker is pretty much the only establishment of its type being located in this region of the island — the other similar establishments are usually only found in more central locations, thus the appeal. Most importantly however is how the folks at Social Smoker do seem to have the expertise in their craft; despite the playful aesthetics of the establishment, one could tell the effort and passion placed by the folks behind the counter in the execution of the food, whilst trying to provide their patrons with a good experience throughout their time here. A laid-back, easygoing establishment that not only pushes out delicious wood-smoked meats and sandwiches for the community around it, Social Smoker is a destination in the heartlands that is also a breath of fresh air in the Sembawang Hills estate that sees only small changes over the years that is worth making the trip for!

Cafe Melba has never been quite in my to-try list for quite a while — had always found their menu to be one that served quite conventional cafe fare with a slightly steep price range, and so it was not quite the place that I really intend to make a visit to for quite a while. That being said, their newest outlet at Mount Sophia situated within the grounds of Sophia Hills Condo did really intrigue me — set within a serene setting around private residences and a quiet neighbourhood atop a hill, the cafe (which is open to public) is housed within a building that is formerly the Chapel of the former Trinity Theological College; one of three conserved buildings within the compounds of Sophia Hills Condo. The beautiful building looks like a modern interpretation of a chapel with its sloping roofs and mosaic windows; all that whilst its interior is filled with plush sofas and cushioned seats amidst and auditorium-like setting with wooden fittings and partitions throughout the cafe. Whilst the menu at their Sophia Hills Condo outlet is somewhat reminiscent of their menu at Goodman Arts Centre, there are some outlet-exclusive items such as the Butter Chicken. For those who have yet to visit Cafe Melba, Cafe Melba serves up food items split into the following categories — breakfast, starters, sandwiches & burgers, main course, pasta, pizza, bites on the side, and sweet bites. Cafe Melba also does offer a Kids’ Menu, whilst the beverages menu offers a wide range of non-alcoholic and alcoholic options from superfood smoothies to specialty coffee, and also liquer coffees to cocktails, spirits and wines.

Of all the dishes that we have ordered during the evening, we actually really liked the Seabass the most — the item actually features Pumpkin Purée, Kale, Sauce Vierge, Fish Cracker and Ikura. Here, the fish comes with a slight muddy note since this is the flavour that is pretty much inherent of seabass itself — the fish is otherwise pretty flaky, and does come with a pan-seared skin for a slight textural contrast. What we really loved is the other elements that came with this dish; the pumpkin purée is smooth and provides a hint of sweetness to cut through the flavours of the fish, while the Sauce Vierge was somewhat similar to a salsa that provides a zing akin to squeezing a wedge of lemon over the dish. The inclusion of kale is likely to make the entire dish a little wholesome; the kale seems to have been sautéed with some garlic for a slightly more punchy note, while the Ikura provided that umami note with a popping sensation that keeps it interesting to go on with the dish. As though it isn’t enough, they had also included fish skin crackers here — the same as one would expect to get from a snack bag; the fish skin crackers being still crisp, though we thought that it wasn’t quite necessary and something which we could do without.

Wouldn’t really say that I am a Cafe Melba convert after my visit here, but one thing is for sure here — their Sophia Hills Condo outlet is certainly an attraction of its own, and a location that I would definitely consider for a quiet dinner that is ideal to bring a date to. There really is nothing quite close to this location when it comes to the overall environment of the location — somewhere serene that brings peace to the heart and soul; all that whilst being away from the crowd considering the slight inconvenience of the location in general. The food here at Cafe Melba isn’t mind-blowing, but it does seem to be comfort food done fairly well to a certain extent; albeit with a steep price tag that wouldn’t necessarily appeal to the average cafehopper looking for more a more adventurous take on cafe fare these days. Still, there isn’t a quite a place like this around — definitely somewhere that I would recommend making the trip at least once to check out the space and the vibe it brings; and then decide if the food is something which one will return for.

Had been wanting to try Little Bowl for quite a long while ever since they had first started business at the Food Emporium food court at Clifford Centre. Whilst that outlet had since shuttered for quite a while now, Little Bowl’s outlet at Marina One is still in operations — a spot that does have a sizeable crowd these days with more folks returning back to office with the easing of the safe management measures in-place due to COVID-19. Opened by chefs formerly from Saveur, Little Bowl had started operations as Le Bouillon (which we had previously made a visit back in 2017), the change of name from Le Bouillon to Little Bowl is to reflect their shift from serving up French cuisine, to an establishment that specialises in Western and Japanese fusion fare. Being a standalone eatery at the basement of Marina One, Little Bowl serves up quite a variety of Donburi, whilst also having a small selection of pasta and udon on their menu to serve the lunchtime office crowds here.

What stood out most to us in the menu at Little Bowl was the Shio Pasta; the item consists of elements such as Crispy Chicken, Crabmeat and Mushroom Sauce according to its description on the menu. Priced at $9.90, the Shio Pasta is considered a rather pretty affordable eat within Marina One itself, considering how there are not many wallet-friendly options within the building especially where Western and Japanese fusion fare are being served. While the presentation of the dish is certainly not the best here, this was pretty much comfort food for the soul — our favourite part probably being the Cappellini pasta here. No idea how they have prepared it, but the Cappellini comes in a shade slightly darker than one would have expected; there is also a noticeable hint of crustacean flavour lingering that makes one wonder if this is indeed inspired by the lobster cappellini that features a naturally briny sweetness with every slurp of the noodle. As though wanting to appease the masses, the inclusion of the mushroom sauce; itself being like a cream-based sauce that carried a hint of earthiness, can be said as a move to incorporate a classic flavour that most would not mind having on the plate. Whilst the fried chicken pieces had a light and crisp batter that wasn’t particularly greasy, we found it quite a pity how these seemed to be prepared ahead of time and wasn’t exactly served piping hot — there again, maybe a move to speed up the process since they are pretty much a quick casual dining concept that has to cater to the takeaway/delivery crowd whilst also trying to serve as many dine-in patrons as they can.

With quite a number of items priced below $10 at Little Bowl, Little Bowl is definitely one of the more reasonably-priced establishments of its type within Marina One — something that some office workers may actually consider having once a week just to treat themselves to a slightly nicer lunch just to break away from the more affordable local fare such as the likes of Malaysia Boleh. Whilst there are some things which we personally felt needed a slight tweak (i.e. plating and the crispy chicken), I wouldn’t mind dining here again if I am looking for some comfort food without having to break the bank.

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Yet another one of the cafes that had been making its rounds in social media the last week is Supernova — a newly-opened establishment located at 266 Tanjong Katong Road where some may remember as the address of the now-defunct The Laneway Market before its move to King George’s Avenue. The space was briefly occupied by yet another now-defunct establishment named Katong Kanteen, before being what it is now. For those whom are unaware, Supernova is a concept by the same folks behind Atlas Coffeehouse, who are also behind other establishments such as the now-defunct Assembly Coffee (Evans Lodge), Lunar Coffee Brewers (OUE Downtown), Colombus Coffee Co. (Upper Thomson), Apollo Coffee Bar (Serangoon Gardens) and The Neptune (East Coast Road). Their latest concept is a bit of a steer away from their previous ones — Supernova being more of cafe in the day, but switches up as more a wine bar during the evening that also serves up sharing plates, Okonomiyaki, pastas, proteins and burgers. As such, Supernova does serve up two different menus during brunch/lunch service between 8am to 5pm, and a dinner menu from 5pm to closing from Tuesday to Saturday. That being said, the cafe only serves its brunch/lunch menu on Sundays where they are only open from 8am to 7pm. For those looking for non-alcoholic beverages during its dinner service, it is noted that Supernova still serves coffee, chocolate and teas amongst other non-alcoholic beverages in the evening as well.

Given how Okonomiyakis have a dedicated section on the dinner menu at Supernova all by itself, we thought that it was a must to at least order one to try — that is also especially given how the Okonomiyakis are just a few of the many new items that are only available exclusively at Supernova. Skimming through the description of the various types of Okonomiyakis offered, we found ourselves settling for the Miso Eggplant Okonomiyaki which comprises of elements such as miso eggplant, ponzu aioli, bonito flakes, and spring onions. Supernova has actually taken a fusion approach for their Okonomiyaki here — rather than serving it in the classic form, the Okonomiyaki at Supernova can be said as one that is a hybrid between the Japanese Okonomiyaki and a Swiss Rosti; featuring the same mix of vegetables that one would find in the Japanese Okonomiyaki, it comes with that all-familiar Japanese Okonomoyaki sauce drizzled but it comes crisp to the point that it almost seems deep-fried. Topped with the bonito flakes, the Okomoniyaki is savoury yet umami. The Miso Eggplant here is essentially their take on the Nasu Dengaku — miso paste spread atop eggplant that makes for an earthy note with a soft, juicy bite; pretty matching with the Okonomiyaki beneath. Overall, a dish that one could tell is a product of a long development process — no doubt carrying that usual brand of uniqueness of Atlas Coffeehouse and the other establishments that they run, but also one that seems to have checked the relevant boxes where attention to detail is of concern.

Being one of the brands at the forefront of the cafe scene, Atlas Coffeehouse was one of the few cafes that started what some would dub as “progressive contemporary cafe fare” — something which they had also pulled off in their multiple concepts as well. Supernova is no different from their other concepts; that being said, it is also their most ambitious yet — shifting away from being just “another cafe” and with an emphasis on alcohol as well to blend in with the demographics and surrounding of the neighbourhood that it is located in. This is pretty telling on Supernova’s menu as well; unlike the other establishments run by Atlas Coffeehouse where a big proportion of menu items are carried over from its previous concepts, the menu at Supernova features more outlet exclusives than ever before — yet quality of food remains at a level consistent with their other establishments. Sure; there may be some teething issues that one may experience whilst making their visit here since they are still pretty new (they were already pretty packed during our visit made within the first few days of their opening), but Supernova is probably going to be just like any other establishment run by the same folks — a destination of choice for residents nearby to dine at, and also one that avid cafe-hoppers will make a beeline for just to check out which is pretty much a testament to their popularity and prominence in the local cafe scene here.

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Checked out the new Bella People & Coffee situated at Tanjong Katong Road; the cafe takes over the former premises of the now-defunct LICK Little Ice Cream Kafe. The space has seen a complete revamp from its former operator; now sporting a porch with a small outdoor dining area. Walking into the cafe, the cafe sports a interior decor that can be described as clean and a little Balinese-inspired; the use of coloured cushioned seats and pairings do provide a welcomed contrast of colours against the otherwise white and minimalist interior. Bella’s menu is segmented into various sections — includes a section that is dedicated for all-day breakfast, lunch (served from 10am to 5:30pm), sides, sandwiches, salads and desserts. The selection of drinks at Bella People & Coffee includes espresso-based beverages — the usual suspects one would expect at a cafe serving up specialty coffee, tea and smoothies.

There were quite a number of items that caught our eye here, including the Spinach Truffle Risotto as well as the Soft Shell Crab Waffle but we found ourselves settling for the Asian Salmon Roulette, which consists of elements such as torched rolled salmon confit, deep fried kale,
sautéed broccoli & carrot and asam balsamic dressing. The torched rolled salmon confit was pretty delicious on its own — the consistency of the salmon confit was flaky and carried a distinct hint of the natural flavours of the fish; the texture really similar to that of cured salmon that is done to medium-rare; possibly torched to the said level of doneness. Meanwhile, the deep-fried kale is actually prepared in-house here — these were incredibly crisp and actually pretty addictive to have on their own; sprinkled with onion powder, they were also saltish though we did feel that a smaller sprinkling of the same could bind better with the overall flavours of the dish that lean towards the cleaner side. The sautéed broccoli and carrot are actually cooked with butter and garlic; whilst still carrying a crunch, they were savoury with a garlicky touch — just the way we like it and how mum prepares a western-ish meal at home. Personally wasn’t a fan of the alfalfa sprouts that they have included since we aren’t too big of a fan of them — carried a note that is particularly “green” though it’s pretty inherent from the sort of vegetable it is, while also though the asam balsamic dressing wasn’t quite needed here. For one, we do see why they have included it — it does introduce a slight tang to cut through the salmon’s natural flavours but we personally felt it just took away much of the otherwise clean and simple flavours of the dish that we found comforting.

Whilst we hadn’t managed to try most of the other items on their menu, Bella People & Coffee does seem to offer the folks of Tanjong Katong yet another choice for a cafe to dine at — this is apart from Little Rogue Coffee and Carry On; both of which are of a walking distance away from Bella People & Coffee. That being said, we found the Asian Salmon Roulette to be a dish that is simple and comforting; close to the heart though does showcase somewhat the skills and execution of the kitchen crew to get most of the details right. Being situated away from the main stretch of cafes located at Joo Chiat Road and East Coast Road, Bella People & Coffee does offer the residents around Tanjong Katong a spot to chill slightly away from the heart of the cafe scene in the area — somewhere which I would not mind dining at again.

Up, down and everywhere around for food.

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