The end of 2019 is upon us, and boy, have we had a year of food fads that just simply wouldn’t go away. We had salted egg hang around from 2018, mala was creeping into every hot dish and snack, and brown sugar boba was brazen in its attempt to sneak its way into both sweet and savoury dishes.
No matter the trend you did or didn’t follow, we have to admit, it was a great year for all foodies alike. We had the honour of crowning two three-star Michelin restaurants for the first time in Singapore, inspiring us to come up with our own list of top 10 favourite food spots that we’ve reviewed in the last year!
I’m sure not everyone will agree with our picks, but therein lies the beauty of food; everyone has a different palate, and it’s always a joy for us to share with you what we, the SL team, would love for you to try next. With that, we’d love to hear what made it to your favourites list for 2019, and we may just check it out for ourselves.
For those who love a taste for all things cheese, The Cheese Ark at Stirling Road will serve your dairy desires. Cheesemonger and owner, Ming, is a quirky character, who escaped the advertising industry to pursue a life she could build with, well, literally, two hands. She ended up on a Pecorino cheese farm in Italy, as they say, the rest is history.
Her shop is well-stocked with a plethora of cheeses, from Comte, to pecorino, to Bricat al Tartufo, to Truffle Gorgonzola.
Our favourite part was when Ming brought out a hefty wheel of gorgonzola for us to sample. Thick and gooey, this melty cheese was just like a spread that was utterly satisfying, with elements of saltiness, and butteriness. Even if you’re only just starting out as a novice in the cheese realm, you can get a cheese plate from The Cheese Ark’s weekly specials priced around a wallet-friendly S$20.
Now, how about some cheese, please?
Throw all notions of Indian cuisine out the window when dining at Thevar, as Chef Manogren Murugan Thevar from Penang reigns the kitchen and wants his diners to have a taste of modern Indian dishes, beyond thosai and butter chicken.
We recommend starting with the flavour powerhouse, Irish Oyster, Rasam Granita (S$6 for a single piece, S$32 for half dozen). You’d think that with such a potent spiced ice topping, it’d outshine the delicate oyster. Fret not, the brininess and measured sweetness still managed to blossom on the palate, opening up our appetites, and making us hungry for what was to come.
The Mackerel Dosai, Tomato Chutney (S$14) is a unique creation, when we first laid eyes on it. Thin and soft, with a tangy tomato chutney smeared all over the flaky mackerel, it was a delicate carry from plate to mouth, as we wanted to be able to ensure we had every element of the dish in our first bite.
We certainly underestimated its impact in my mind, but after my first and subsequent mouthfuls, we simply couldn’t shake off how a dainty-looking dish could pack so much intensity, especially considering a fine protein like mackerel is used.
With so much talk about Thevar prior to our visit, we were left duly impressed. If you haven’t already made the trip to explore Indian cuisine beyond your coffee shop staples, we implore you to add some spice to your next meal at Thevar.
Be transported to the ’50s upon entering British Hainan, located in Joo Chiat, with its walls adorned with old paintings of Elvis Presley, late singers, photos of Singapore in the ’50s, and more.
Part of its charm and appeal is its eclectic mix of vintage memorabilia; we spotted an old slot machine, old radios and clocks, as well as a bunch of other priceless antiques. Old mini pianos, little porcelain cups, vinyl records, old Mercedes-Benz front grill, and so much more!
Its owner, 62-year-old Mr Frederick Puah, who everyone affectionately calls ‘Uncle Fred’, collects vintage antiques, so what you see on display at the restaurant are either his own personal collections or donations from members of the public.
Rustic charm aside, the food speaks for itself, especially when we had a taste of its Traditional Hainanese Oxtail Stew (S$29.90), served with three large pieces of oxtail were served with slices of toasted baguette, cubes of potato and carrots, slices of celery, as well as a thick and glossy sauce.
The six-hour-stewed oxtail blew us away. We could taste a natural sweetness, which mellowed out into a savoury tomato-like flavour. The gravy was so rich and aromatic that it faintly reminded us of red wine—gorgeously earthy and tangy.
There’s also their Hainanese Pork Chop (S$14.90), which came topped with soft slices of tomato and lots of fries. The pork chop was coated with breadcrumbs and was crisp on the outside while the flesh on the inside was tender, soft and juicy. The secret behind the dish lay in the pork chop being first seared, before being coated in breadcrumbs, and finally dipped into sizzling-hot cooking oil.
British Hainan could be a place you’d want to bring your parents to, especially if they’re fond of antiques and all things nostalgic to their era.
Singaporeans’ love for Japanese fare hasn’t faltered throughout the year, which makes us very happy! This year we came across a 45-seater restaurant, Teppan Kappou Kenji, in Tanjong Pagar Road, that serves exquisite Japanese dishes, including signature teppanyaki options, the usual sushi, sashimi, sukiyaki and hotpot choices as well.
But the Dinner Omakase (S$150++) has to be the star of the restaurant, of which we were so honoured to have tried. We’d only just begun the feast, and we were already amazed with the Edamame Vichyssoise Topped With Sea Urchin, Crab & Water Shield.
Vichyssoise is a thick soup made of boiled and pureed leeks, onions and potatoes, though edamame is added here. Served cold, the dish is topped with bitter but refreshing water shield. The highlight was the creamy uni (sea urchin) and sweet, juicy crabmeat—mixing these into the thick broth added briny notes to the appetiser.
How is their sashimi, you ask? Our favourites were Fatty Tuna and the Smoked Red Snapper. The tuna was deliciously soft, with a good amount of fat. It wasn’t quite melt-in-mouth, but we liked that it still had some bite to it.
From their a la carte menu, we simply must highlight Gyu Katsu (S$22), one of Teppan Kappou Kenji’s popular a la carte Agemono dishes.
Soft and tender beef slices were encased in a crust that’s crispy and savoury and served with a tangy sauce that kept me coming back for more. The meat was seared till pink, and tasted mouth-wateringly good.
Despite the handsome price tag for their omakase, its presentation and quality are befitting of a splurge once in a while. So, for your birthday next year, why not request for dinner at Teppan Kappou Kenji?
Teppan Kappou Kenji: 99 Tanjong Pagar Road, #01-01, Singapore 088520 | Tel: +65 9152 3118 | Opening Hours: 11.30am – 2pm & 6pm – 10.30pm (Daily) | Website
Not all our favourites were fancy restaurants or cafés; we also found happiness in hawker fare, like Hammee’s, for example. Located in Commonwealth Crescent Market & Food Centre, this stall serves American fare on a budget, and we simply couldn’t wait to get our hands on their quaint-looking burgers!
Their Classic Beef Cheeseburger (S$6) had a bun that was perfection—golden-brown and fluffy complete with charred edges. Those toasty rounds sandwiched a juicy beef patty, caramelised onions and a square of American cheese.
The beef patty had a good fat-to-meat ratio, and was well-seasoned well and flavourful. The cheese melded with the tender patty, and the onions added a little sweetness, making each bite downright satisfying. What can we say, this was a pretty solid burger.
An alternative to Hammee’s Cheeseburger–but definitely not inferior to—would be their Fried Chicken Burger (S$5.50). Here, you get a crispy, succulent fried chicken thigh, topped with coleslaw and spicy sauce before being sandwiched in between pillowy buns.
There’s a lot of thought that goes into this seemingly simple burger, as the chicken thighs are first brined, which not only adds flavour but plumps them up and makes them even juicier. They are then marinated and dredged in flour and fried twice at two different temperatures. For the first fry, the oil is at a lower temperature to cook the chicken through. While the second fry is at a much higher temperature to really get the Maillard reaction going. What you end up with is a beautiful, crunchy chicken thigh.
There’s no denying that with these burgers are selling at a steal, but it by no means indicates a sub-standard burger. If you’re ever in the area, we recommend you pop by to get your hands on one!
If we could give an award to one of the most innovative restaurants, we’d give it to JAM At SIRI House. To match its lifestyle and retail concept (SIRI House), it’s situated in picturesque Dempsey Hill.
In fact, it is home to an art gallery and a showhouse for Thai properties under the Sansiri group, with displays changing every few months. It also features a retail space, The Shop At SIRI House, with new vendors every quarter. Expect to find one-of-a-kind trinkets and clothing from Thai designers, perfect for refreshing your wardrobe or as a gift for friends.
Their daily-made bottled cocktails are rolled up right up to your table, with the Umemi (S$13) being a crowd favourite, and understandably so. It uses vodka-infused green tea, umeshu and lime, providing refreshing and very clean notes—great for cooling off from the unrelenting heat.
One of the more novel snacks they serve is Chicken In A Biscuit (S$12), which didn’t turn out to be what we had envisioned in our head. Inspired by the popular children’s snack, the chicken fat cookie is smeared with a spiced cream cheese that’s been flavoured with garlic and ginger.
The crumble on top is chicken skin, making this cookie an absolute delight to bite into, as it was a crumbly mess of savoury and sweet. Due to its fattiness, however, our advice is to ensure you have enough people to share this with because it can get rather filling.
The Spicy Potatoes (S$16) had a fluffy, cloud-like texture in the middle, with a crisp shell outside. The kitchen’s own mala spice mix comes with ample chilli and Szechuan peppercorns. It is then topped with beef lardons and parmesan for that extra bit of indulgence.
It’s rare to have fish dishes being described as divine (let alone impressive), but this one was simply outstanding. The Cod (S$38) is a dish with slow-cooked cod precariously placed on top of mushroom dashi and Asari clams, which have been smoked in a charcoal oven. The flaky meat melted like butter on the tongue, while the skin was satisfyingly crunchy. The mushroom dashi was incredibly aromatic and made for a hearty broth that we would’ve liked to simply sip from the serving bowl.
We’re confident there is something on JAM At SIRI House’s menu that you’re bound to fall in love with; we know we’ve fallen heads over heels.
JAM At SIRI House: 8D Dempsey Rd, Dempsey Hill, #01-02, Singapore 249672 | Tel: +65 9667 0533 | Opening Hours: 11.30am – 2.30pm & 6pm – 10pm (Tue – Sun), Closed on Mon | Facebook | Instagram | Website
Haji Lane plays host to a multitude of quaint retail and F&B establishments, one of which is Limaa. The café was founded in 2017 by Aidah and Zakiah, two mothers who only realised how important healthy eating was when Aidah spent an arduous and painful 16 hours in labour giving birth to her first child. As such, her doula suggested for her to take out processed sugar and preservatives from her diet, start green juicing, and exercise regularly.
After swapping to a healthier lifestyle, Aidah’s second delivery was unbelievably smooth. It only took her an hour!
As for the food at Limaa, think wholesome dishes that don’t scrimp on flavour, much like the Mini Shank (S$24.90), a dish that they are immensely proud of.
The juicy lamb shank cubes were incredibly fragrant, savoury, and tender, melting in our mouths the minute we bit into it. Every bite had a fair amount of fatty goodness and smoky meat, and it was mildly spicy, piquant, and briny, just like star anise coupled together with the richness of bone marrow.
For those looking to watch their carb intake, the café’s Zoodle Noodle (S$10.90) will meet your needs. Zucchinis are thinly sliced to form “noodles”, which effectively cuts the number of calories in this dish by a ton. They’re sauteéd with garlic and olive oil, and lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese.
I know how hard zucchini noodles are to make—it’s so easy to overcook them—but Limaa cooked them perfectly right. They were crunchy and light, and we loved it that there was a tinge of heat from the black pepper which helped to season each zucchini strand nicely.
In spite of its pared-down presentation, we were beyond satisfied with the dishes that we were served. In fact, we’re almost hesitant to categorise Limaa together with the rest of the pretentious and inconspicuous cafés. This place is the real deal!
We’ve had our fair share of steak house reviews, but one that stood out for us this year was at SEAR. SEAR is known for serving exceptional cuts of steak, grilled to perfection and paired exquisitely with wines, whiskies and more. What’s more, the steaks are cooked in the PIRA charcoal oven for that perfect… wait for it… sear.
You can get a head start to your meaty meal with their Prime Angus Tenderloin “Steak Tartare” (S$18), which also happens to be the largest portion we’ve seen so far. Served with minced onions, chopped chives, truffle emulsion and topped with horseradish shavings, the dish even came with a side of toast fingers.
It’d be best to share this with one or even two other diners, simply because of how decadent it was. It’s your prerogative with how you chose to consume the dish; choose to mix everything on the plate together and pile it on the toast fingers or sample the tartare with each of the toppings to see which you prefer.
For their dinner promotion, SEAR offers two different cuts of steak. The cuts change on a regular basis, so there’s more reason to pester your date to return after a month or so for different cuts at a discounted price. When we visited in July, we ordered the S$18 Wagyu Rump Cap, which might be the most-value-for money steak we’ve ever tried. Evenly marbled with fat, this was a really soft and flavourful cut. Since it’s already served in strips, digging into the steak was simple.
If you prefer something a little chewier, then go for the USDA Prime Ribeye (S$28). The fine-grained beef definitely had more bite, though we felt the fat marbling was a little uneven. Oh, and don’t forget to pick your choice of Sides (S$8) and Sauces (S$3) too!
Select from an ample variety, such as choose from Creamed Spinach, Horseradish Mashed Potatoes and Sauteed Mushrooms. Our favourite has to be the Sauteed Mushrooms, which was bursting with juices and fragrant earthy and nutty notes. As for the Sauces, Chimichurri, Bearnaise, Bordelaise, Whole Grain Mustard were all great, but it truly depends on what your palate fancies.
For a steak meal on a slim budget, SEAR is one of the best restaurants in town that would be an ideal date night solution, especially when you wish to impress but don’t wish to blow too much cash (we sympathise with the predicament).
Having been one of the later reviews we’ve written this year, it may come across as too coincidental that it made the list. However, we can assure you, the Claypot Frog Porridge (S$10 for one to two pax, S$16 for three to four pax) and Curry Fish Head (S$26) at S7 Live Frog Porridge is the real deal.
The weather that afternoon was the perfect amount of storm for us to dig into the Claypot Frog Porridge, with its velvety and thick consistency, making one of the reasons we grew fond of it almost instantly. The frogs were served in a claypot, teeming with spring onions, and completely immersed in thick gravy. The gravy wasn’t as smoky as we’d expected, but it was satisfyingly savoury no less.
The frog’s meat was mighty tender, falling off the bone with ease, which made disposing of its tiny bones almost effortless. The spring onions weren’t simply an accessory for colour; its slight acidity was great for cutting through the sometimes-overpowering flavour of the soya sauce in the gravy.
The Curry Fish Head‘s aroma hit our nostrils with much delight as the dish arrived at the table, and we could tell—simply from its fragrance—that we would fall in love with it pretty hard. We could sense the generous use of curry powder, given that its spiciness lingered at the back of my throat even after we’d polished off all the fish we could find. Even then, we kept going back for ladles of curry simply because it was too good to stop.
The zi char dishes are well worth mentioning as well, with their Salted Egg Sotong (S$10/S$15/S$20) being our personal choice. It held a creamy interior within its crispy shell, while the core was a springy and sweet squid. The curry leaves lent a nice touch of spicy aroma, which was intoxicating. The result was a clear plate in minutes.
Geylang is surely notorious for plenty of vices, but if you’re a true foodie, this place should be named one of your guilty pleasures.
S7 Live Frog Porridge: 213/215 Geylang Road, Singapore 389273 | Tel: +65 6970 5676 | Opening Hours: 4pm – 4am (Daily)
Remember when unagi speciality restaurants were popping up left and right, faster than we could try out every new one? Although not specialising in just unagi, Sho Yakitori & Sushi does focus on serving Japan-imported grilled unagi.
Stepping into Sho Yakitori & Sushi, the first sight that greeted us was a huge tank, filled with writhing live eels. The sign proudly proclaims them to be ‘live eels from Japan’, and squeamish as it feels to see the mass of live eels, we appreciated the reminder of their freshness.
As you can imagine, the star of Sho Yakitori has to be their unagi dishes—specifically, the Unagi Hitsumabushi (S$39.90). This famous Nagoya grilled eel dish has been growing in popularity here. Those familiar with the decorum that comes with consuming hitsumabushi will know that there are three ways to enjoy this dish: by itself, with the condiments (wasabi, seaweed and spring onions), or mixed with the dashi broth.
The unagi here was possibly the softest we’ve tried in Singapore, perhaps as a mark of their freshness. Despite that, the eel meat was dense enough for a good bite. On the flipside, if grilled eel isn’t your thing, pick from a selection of Bakumori Don, also known as Mega Sushi Rice Bowl. They weren’t kidding about calling it ‘mega’—each bowl was overflowing with ingredients, to the extent that it was a little hard to mix with the rice.
My favourites by far were the Chirashi Bakumori Don (S$28) and the Deluxe Bakumori Don (S$40). A mix of salmon, tuna, yellowtail amberjack and tamago cubes topped fluffy white rice in the Chirashi Bakumori Don, together with diced cucumber and a generous portion of ikura. Really, it’s hard to go wrong when the sashimi cubes are this fresh.
The Deluxe Bakumori Don is a real feast for your eyes and tastebuds. Each side of the rice bowl was covered with yellowtail amberjack and tuna chunks, tamago cubes and a cascading blanket of ikura. A dollop of uni (sea urchin) sat atop the bowl, beneath which was minced fatty tuna. Mmm.
If you’ve already tried out the other unagi speciality restaurants, are looking to try another one (for comparison’s sake!), we are pretty sure the one at Sho Yakitori & Sushi is a great contender!
Sho Yakitori & Sushi: 9 Raffles Boulevard, #01-16/19, Millennia Walk, Singapore 039596 | Tel: +65 6333 1171 | Opening Hours: 11.30am – 3pm & 5.30pm – 10.30pm (Daily) | Facebook
2019 has been yet another fantastic year for the food scene in Singapore; sometimes remembering a long-forgotten hidden treasure, and other times discovering a new, trendy place that saw throngs of avid foodies from across the island. What was your most memorable meal in 2019?