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

Came to know about Bird Avenue whilst scrolling through social media recently; though the logo looked quite familiar and there is really every reason to believe so. Located at the basement of Centrepoint right beside Godaime that specialises in Japanese Mazemen, Bird Avenue takes over the former premises of La Bird. Turns out, Bird Avenue is a concept by the Minor Food Group — the same group also runs F&B concepts such as the likes of Josh’s Grill, Da Xi 大喜, GyoGyo, Manma Mia! Trattoria E Caffe, Sanook Kitchen and more. In fact, La Bird was also a concept introduced by the Minor Food Group, and it seems that Bird Avenue is a re-branding of the said concept that happened somewhere in September 2023. One especially obvious clue would be the logos that Bird Avenue and La Bird used; the logo being essentially of the same design, though the background colour for La Bird’s logo is black while Bird Avenue’s logo features a gold background instead. There is also a shift in the focus of what the establishment serves up; La Bird used to be a concept that heavily features Spanish influences, offering dishes like Paella amidst the focal ingredient of chicken. In retrospect, Bird Avenue is more of a casual restaurant serving somewhat American fare, with its tagline being “Flame Grilled Chicken”. In the menu of Bird Avenue, it is being split into sections dedicated to Old-Fashioned Flame Grilled Chicken, Tacos Amigos, All-American Signature Hamburg on sizzling hotplate, Spaghetti, Bowls & Sidekicks, Kids Delight (i.e. the kid’s menu) and Dessert St.. Beverages served up at Bird Avenue includes a series of “handcrafted” beverages, Soda & More, Frappe, Float, Coffee and Tea.

Those whom have had followed us for a while would likely know that we aren’t much of a fan of some of Minor Food Group’s concepts — there are some that seem to be better conceptualised than others, though there has always been something to pick on during our visits to their various concepts over the years. What had really piqued our interest to give Bird Avenue a visit was its offerings of the Bird Avenue Fried Chicken with Homemade Coleslaw — this is despite it being an item that strays away from its main focus on Flame Grilled Chicken. It is interesting to note that the Bird Avenue Fried Chicken with Homemade Coleslaw is an item found in a separate menu and not listed in the main hard copy menu; perhaps a later addition to the menu here. Patrons can opt for the version of the Bird Avenue Fried Chicken with Homemade Coleslaw to come with French Fries, or Onion Rice — we went for the former. It also does come with an accompanying sauce apart from the aforementioned elements as well. Interestingly, the Bird Avenue Fried Chicken with Homemade Coleslaw comes with two pieces of chicken drumstick by default; we are uncertain if one could switch up the chicken part for their order here, though it is not being mentioned anywhere on the menu or by their staff.

Digging into the first piece of the fried chicken, we initially found ourselves rather impressed by what they have to offer; the fried chicken coming with a crisp batter that was not too thick and the chicken flesh being juicy and moist. The accompanying sauce was actually really satisfying; one that seems to hint of notes typically found in a BBQ sauce but not too sweet nor smoky, yet finishes with a slightly peppery note. That being said, it wasn’t that consistent with the second piece of fried chicken on the platter; the piece of fried chicken being a little bit greasy and having absorbed a bit of that oil within that made is slightly more jelat. The French Fries which we had was also not particularly impressive — these seemed to have been fried more than once considering how they were hot, but crunchy and dry; thank goodness for the accompanying sauce which helps to balance things out a little, though perhaps going with the Onion Rice might be a more sound decision (but hey, who knows? We hadn’t tried it though!). The coleslaw is served chilled — the right temperature that we prefer it to be typically, though crunch and somewhat refreshing, there seems to be a deliberate light tang that seems to have ended nowhere and left us yearning for more considering how it left the palate hanging.

During our visit, we also had given the Banana Nutella Pop a try; an item off the Dessert St. section of the menu that is described to consist of elements such as puff pastry and salted caramel ice-cream. This was an interesting conceptualisation of a dessert — the slices of bananas come wrapped with a puff pastry skin almost akin to what one would expect in a Beef Wellington per se; that is a hot and cold contrast factored into the dessert, and it does feature some very safe flavour combinations of salted caramel, Nutella and bananas, and sees a sprinkle of crushed almonds over the top. The only qualm was how the salted caramel ice-cream came with quite a fair amount of icy bits that just wasn’t ideal in terms of texture — a detail that should have been better taken care of. Bird Avenue attempts to present itself as an alternative to fast food joints serving up fried chicken in a more comfortable setting with service — the price tag of the Bird Avenue Fried Chicken with Homemade Coleslaw at $10.90++ ie rather enticing to say the least. That being said, we do find establishments like Chic-a-boo giving more bang for the buck — no doubt Chic-a-boo is a fast food concept, though we would argue that their fried chicken has been less greasy during our visits to their Sembawang Shopping Centre outlet previously; also worth noting is that Bird Avenue does charge GST and service charge as well. We wouldn’t really be craving for the fried chicken from Bird Avenue, though Bird Avenue does seem like one of Minor Food Group’s slightly more decent concepts with a few misses nonetheless; perhaps their other items being more worthy of the mention than what we had went for.

Heard all about the new Tilly’s that had recently sprouted up at East Coast Road — the establishment had recently taken over the former premises of the now-defunct Rabbit Carrot Gun that occupies the corner shophouse unit where other F&B establishments such as Cheeky Bee Hoon 麒记米粉, Lazy Sloth & Drunken Sloth and Baker's Well are also located. One could also say that Tilly’s is a spiritual successor to what Rabbit Carrot Gun was to the Katong neighbourhood, considering how Tilly’s is also positioned as an Irish bar — Tilly’s is a concept by Chef Andrew Walsh, whom is also the chef owner of Cure that is situated at Keong Saik Road. The shop space at Tilly’s had seen a bit of a refresh from its days being Lime House — the entire shophouse does seem to have been repainted in brighter colours, while the interior of the shop house is painted in a shade of cool mint; definitely a brighter look than what it was previously. There are a mix of high tables and high chairs with bar counter for the dine-in seating; proper dine-in seats featuring dining chairs and tables can also be found lined up around the five foot way outside of the establishment — great for those whom prefer to dine outdoors. Being an Irish Bar at heart, the menu is split into sections comprising of Small Plates, Large Plates, Sides, Sweets and Sunday Roasts — one can expect classic British bar fare such as that of the Tilly's Scotch Egg with Brown Sauce, Beer Battered Fish & Chips, Mushy Peas and Beef & Guinness Pot Pie With Mash being served at Tilly’s. For beverages, Tilly’s does offer quite a wide selection of alcoholic beverages — think the likes of cocktails, whiskies, liqueurs & aperitifs, beers and wines to choose from. Non-alcoholic beverages listed in the beverage menu of Tilly’s include soft drinks, tonic water, soda water, Red Bull and ginger ale; just to name a few.

Skimming through the menu on the variety of dishes which they have to offer, we found ourselves settling for just one Small Plate, one Large Plate and one Dessert item to share. For our choice of the Large Plate, we went with the Pork Sausage Toad in the Hole Pudding — the item most certainly stood out from the other items listed in the Large Plates section of the menu considering it was a little bit more common to find items such as the Beer Battered Fish & Chips, Mushy Peas and Beef & Guinness Pot Pie With Mash around the island. Tilly’s does not describe about the elements that is being featured in the Pork Sausage Toad in the Hole Pudding; that being said, we did observe that the Pork Sausage Toad in the Hole Pudding that was being served to us sees a pudding that is similar to that of a Yorkshire pudding that is being served in a griddle that is typically used to prepare Dutch baby pancakes. Sitting atop the Yorkshire pudding will be two pork sausages, while the item does come with peas and a brown sauce on the side. The way to enjoy this dish is to slice up some of the pudding along with the sausage before pouring the brown sauce over the top to have them all at one go. Considering how the Yorkshire pudding is served on top of the griddle, the item is best to be had when it is first served on the table — the Yorkshire pudding is airy and spongy; almost akin to that of a puff pastry with a bit more bounce. We also noticed the addition of cheese in the middle that gave it a texture and flavour similar to Pão de queijo (i.e. Brazilian Cheese Bread). It does get considerably drier from the heat of the griddle when one leaves the item alone for a while, though the savoury brown sauce that comes with a balanced flavour from what seemed to be chicken stock helps to provide some moisture to the pudding. The pork sausages do feel pretty artisanal here — the meat itself was tightly packed whilst crumbly — does not come with the bounciness from commercially-made sausages, and were not too salty as well. The peas came with a good bite; itself carrying its inherent “green” taste though does come mixed in a refreshing sauce that added some tang — a good accompaniment to the Pork Sausage Toad in the Hole Pudding.

Having tried a few items during our visit to Tilly’s, we must say that we were left rather impressed with the dishes that we had went for during our visit there on a weekend dinner service. Apart from the Pork Sausage Toad in the Hole Pudding, we also went for the Tilly's Scotch Egg with Brown Sauce — an item that is listed on the Small Plates section of the menu. This item is pretty much like a typical scotch eggs dish that comes with barbecue sauce on the side to compliment it. The scotch eggs came with a crisp breaded batter and not particularly greasy. One can find a layer of minced meat that is layered in between the golden brown fried batter and the egg within — we really enjoyed the egg yolk since it was done with an almost fully done, yet creamy consistency; they have also seemed to manage the overall flavours of the dish pretty well without having the dish feel overly salty as well given the composition of the dish itself. We had also went for the only dessert that is listed on the menu at Tilly’s — the dessert being the Signature Sticky Toffee Pudding, Vanilla Ice Cream which came beautifully plated with the ice-cream being stacked atop whipped cream that has been piped atop the sticky toffee pudding. The balanced sweetness and stickiness of the toffee; light fluffiness of the pudding and that aromatic note of vanilla in the ice-cream all made for a very good ending to our meal at Tilly’s. Good aside, we did wish that the service at Tilly’s good be a little bit more warm and proactive; whilst it is a new establishment in the ‘hood, it does seem that the spot is already well-patronised by expats and there were times that we felt that there was a slight difference in terms of the service quality that we had experienced at our table. That aside, Tilly’s seem to be able to deliver in terms of the quality of the food and the execution based on what we had tried — certainly a spot that has potential even when considering the saturated food scene in Katong itself; the small plates are priced at $12++, while large plates are priced between $22++ and $26++. A name to keep an eye out for in the local dining scene for sure!

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Mattar hasn’t been a neighbourhood that is known for much; probably only except for the Circuit Road Food Centres which are located just a short walk away from Mattar MRT Station. A recent addition to the neighbourhood within the Lion City Sailors Football Club, Sailor’s Galley is a new concept by the folks behind Tigafolks & Co.; a halal food caterer which “believes that fond memories are shared and made from and on the dining table” by “ensuring gourmet quality novel experience”. Sailor’s Galley is not too difficult to locate within the building that it is situated in — walking into Lion City Sailors Football Club from its main entrance at Circuit Road, the cafe is located just at the end of the flight of steps on the right hand side next to the security post. The interior of Sailor’s Galley is simple but well-designed; it sports a blue-coloured theme that runs pretty consistently throughout the entire space — the marble-esque table tops and cushioned seats alongside wooden fittings around the counters and the brightly-lit surroundings made the cafe seem pretty comfortable to sit around. Patrons who wish to have a glimpse of all the action in the kitchen can also opt to sit around the bar counter as well, while there is a two-seater table near the cashier that comes with the view of the football pitch. The menu at Sailor’s Galley features items across various sections — the sections include Sides & Starters, Pasta, Burgers and Mains; there are also cakes being display within the display chiller for those looking for a dessert option as well. Whilst there isn’t any indication of the establishment being Muslim-friendly on their social media pages, it is noted that we did not notice any dishes featuring pork at Sailor’s Galley during our visit. The choice of beverages served at Sailor’s Galley includes specialty coffee, frappes, canned drinks and bottled water.

Having skimmed through the menu, we found ourselves leaning towards the Chicken Roulade — this dish features Rolled Chicken Leg stuffed with Baby Spinach and Cream Cheese, Carrot Puree and Grilled Asparagus. It does seem that there is quite a bit of effort placed in the plating of the dish here — the rolled chicken leg sits atop the grilled asparagus; there is also the inclusion of sautéed baby potatoes as a side with some cherry tomatoes, while the carrot puree and the brown sauce is being smeared artfully on the side. Digging into the rolled chicken leg, we were especially impressed with how well-executed the meat here was — we really liked how they had managed to retain much of that tenderness of the chicken leg; it was easy to chew and juicy, all that whilst carrying a nice hint of savouriness and slight crustiness from the grilling. Whilst the menu does list down cream cheese as one of the elements rolled into the chicken leg, we found the cream cheese wasn’t quite prominent here — probably a good thing considering how it could have potentially made the dish a little more heavier than it should be, while the baby spinach was an element that helped to cut through the meatiness. The grilled asparagus was equally well-executed here; still crunchy yet retaining its moisture, it seems that it is simply seasoned with salt to further ante up its flavours. The sautéed baby potatoes were very much prepared in the same way — also pretty delicious on their own, while the brown sauce on the side felt a little heavy; somewhat more suitable to be paired with red meat rather than white meat in our opinion. What stood out for us however was the carrot purée; looking unmistakably like a sweet potato purée or pumpkin purée, we liked how the carrot purée comes with a light and smooth consistency with just a very light touch of sweetness to go alongside the rolled chicken leg — the use of carrots perhaps to create a puree where they could have a better control on the level of sweetness rather than using an ingredient that is inherently sweet. Overall, a dish that delivered beyond what we have expected especially at its price point at $18.90++.

We have also tried other items at Sailor’s Galley; this includes the Sailor’s Fish & Chips, as well as the Marinara Beef Ball Pasta — it does feel like there are bits and misses with the various items we have ordered. While the Chicken Roulade was pretty impressive and well-worth it’s price tag of $18.90++, the Sailor’s Fish & Chips do feel like something less memorable — probably could have had more impact if served with thick-cut fries and if the fish could have retained more moisture. The Marinara Beef Ball Pasta was the least inspiring of the lot — while patrons do have the option to pick between three pasta types, the Fusilli which we have went for was slightly overdone; the texture was a little too soft and somewhat mushy for our liking, not to mention we weren’t too big a fan of the tomato purée that they seem to be using which was no doubt tangy but a little bit on the sweet side. The only bit that we did enjoy from the Marinara Beef Ball Pasta was the Beef Balls; they do carry quite a good bite without tasting in any way gamey. Sailor’s Galley does seem like a good spot to chill at for dinner with a bunch of friends after work without the drinks for those looking for a spot outside of town; the vibes are especially relaxing, and one could also watch the action at the football pitch when it is being used for matches or practice. Whilst it is noted that the food does feel like a hit or miss situation depending on the item ordered, they do seem to be heading towards the right side of things if they do continue to refine on their offerings. A spot worthy to check out if one is in the area looking for something more gourmet than your average cafe fare to go for.

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Checked out the new Mondays (not to be confused with the similarly-named Monday Coffee Bar in Ang Mo Kio) at 8 Jalan Klapa within the Kampong Glam neighbourhood; located just opposite Double Up Coffee, Mondays is a new muslim-run cafe that had taken over the former premises of Kumoya — best known for its themed pop-up cafes such as the likes of Hello Kitty, SpongeBob SquarePants, Molang etc. which has since been permanently relocated at Orchard Central. The space had seen quite a huge revamp from its days being Kumoya; gone are the minimalistic and white interior decor scheme that has been in place ever since the shop unit was occupied by Karafuru Desserts a couple of years ago. Instead, the space now comes with a slightly more European vibe; think concrete walls and floors with a pebble floors and counters — all that with marble-esque table tops and wooden seats with some rattan accents. The look could be said as chic, yet laid-back without having seen as too formal; the lighting used being something on the warmer end with a yellow hue that is especially noticeable especially in the evening during dinner service. One thing notable about the food offerings at Mondays is how the dishes served on the menu typically comes to table in skillets — the menu being segregated into different sections such as Cold Skillet, Hot Skillet and Pasta Skillet; it is however interesting to note that they do seem to also have an emphasis on Caneles as well, offering patrons with quite a variety of Caneles of different flavours whilst also having a small selection of desserts on the menu that also comes served with a skillet. Drinks available on the menu at Mondays include specialty coffee brewed using beans roasted by local coffee roasters Dutch Colony Coffee Co., whilst tea sourced from Roji Tea are also available here — other beverages also listed on the menu consists of still and sparkling water, as well as Matcha and Valrhona Chocolate options.

Having visited Mondays for dinner on a weekday, we found ourselves deliberating on which of the Hot Skillet items that we should be going for here. The Spice Spatchcock became a clear winner for us when we were making our decision on which dish to go for based on price point; the Spice Spatchcock was especially affordable considering how it was being listed on the menu at the price tag of $19 — a price that was significantly lower than most of the other items being listed on the Hot Skillet section of the menu. The Spice Spatchcock consists of elements including spices marinated half spatchcock, baby carrot, cherry tomato and tzatziki sauce. It is without a doubt that the half spatchcock here was the highlight of the night — we are usually quite apprehensive about chicken that is served in this format; one thing that we really liked was how the chicken here is absolutely tender and juicy. Whilst it is no doubt that the half spatchcock here does come a little smaller than what some would expect a half chicken would be, the meat here is easy to have; comes off from the bones easily, yet not particularly dry as it has retained some form of moisture within. What really sealed the deal for us was how the chicken was marinated; it was clear that there was some turmeric involved in here, but we also loved how there seems to be a hint of lemongrass(?) and other herbs going on here that makes the spatchcock especially flavourful — all that with a light sprinkle of cracked pepper for that extra fragrance and slight spiciness that would work fine even for those with low tolerance to spiciness. Whilst the tzatziki sauce works as a dip to the spices marinated half spatchcock in a way to cut through the meatiness with a flavour profile almost akin to yogurt / sour cream, we thought that the chicken was good enough to be had on its own; the tzatziki sauce seemingly working as a better companion to the root vegetables especially. The cherry tomatoes on the other hand provides a refreshing, zingy note that cuts through the meatiness of the dish; resets the tastebuds when it all gets too heavy.

We have also given other dishes such as the Truffle Cèpes Bow Tie & Melted Cheese (featuring elements such as France wild mushrooms, farfalle pasta, truffle cream sauce, cherry tomatoes), the Dalgona Espresso Canele and the specialty coffee during our visit, and we found it true that some of its offerings do seem to require a bit of refinement that could further their potential. Take for example the Dalgona Espresso Canele; while the Dalgona Espresso cream for the Canele was prominent and well-executed, the Canele lacked finesse in its execution — the exterior seemed to be missing of a crispy crust, while the insides did feel a wee bit dry and did not carry quite that oomph we were looking for. The Truffle Cèpes Bow Tie & Melted Cheese on the other hand did feature very prominent earthy flavours from the mushrooms, though the truffle aroma did not seem to be easily detectable; the dish also bore an aesthetic that felt a little too amateur — the plating of the dish being one thing that could certainly be reworked. That being said, we do think that Mondays does probably have an upper hand in the items that they serve up in the Hot Skillet section of the menu; we were pretty satisfied with the Spice Spatchcock and were also especially intrigued by the Miso Pacific Cod Fish and the Chili Con Carne Rosti as well. A spot with some hits and misses, Mondays does seem like somewhere that has quite a fair bit of potential if they are able to look into further improving their items based on the feedback of their patrons — a spot that is worth visiting at least once to decide if this would work out for you.

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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!

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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 Link@896. For those who are unfamiliar with the building, Link@896 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 Link@896, 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!

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Up, down and everywhere around for food.

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