Long Beach @ Dempsey, Singapore

Famous Black Pepper Crab

After the Hainanese Chicken Rice, the chilli crab is probably the dish most synonymous with Singaporean cuisine. Following a chicken rice lunch at the "legendary" Chatterbox, what better option for dinner on the first day of my Singaporean trip, then, than a spot of chilli crab. Long Beach is a long-standing crab restaurant chain in Singapore, famed for inventing the Black Pepper Crab, in fact, but also reputed to dish out one of the best chilli crabs in town. My friends had actually taken me to another Long Beach branch, on East Coast Road, on my visit to Singapore last year, and we all came away somewhat disappointed. I was, thus, rather surprised to hear that they had selected the Long Beach outlet at Dempsey for our chilli crab meal this time, ahead of the not inconsiderable claims of the likes of No Signboard and Jumbo. But apparently the Dempsey venue was much better than the Easy Coast Road branch, so again, as with lunch, I deferred to the greater knowledge of the local residents.

Handmade Beancurd with Chef's SauceDeep Fried Baby Squid

Before the crab came a few of the supplementary dishes. Handmade Beancurd with Chef's Sauce was tasty, but the deep fried exterior of the tofu a tad on the soggy side by the time it reached my lips. You could literally taste the oil and the deep-fried-ness of the Fried You-Tiao with Minced Live Prawn and Fresh Crab Meat, but that's kind of the point with a dish like that - healthy it ain't, and never professed to me; but good, well that it is. Deep Fried Baby Squid was tiny squid deep fried until they were crisp and brittle, then coated in a sticky, sweet sauce. It was nice enough, but also quite chewy, and thus not something one could consume a whole lot of, if for no other reason than to give your jaw a bit of a break!

Special Roast Chicken

Special Roast Chicken
was not all that special - the skin achieved the requisite crispiness, but the meat not the requisite moisture. It was also rather tasteless. 'Dong Po' Ribs with Honey Sauce were alright, but the sauce a bit overpowering.

Fried You-Tiao with Minced Live Prawn and Fresh Crab Meat'Dong Po' Ribs with Honey Sauce

Finally, onto the crab. We ordered both the Famous Black Pepper Crab and the
Popular Chilli Crab. The chilli crab was delicious and full of flavour; the mantou (bread) provided used copiously to lap up the lovely sauce. In contrast, the black pepper crab's was a more delicate taste; one that, in truth, got overwhelmed by its chilli counterpart.

Popular Chilli Crab

In a nutshell...
There were a number of indifferent dishes, but on the whole, this was an enjoyable meal that easily surpassed the one we had at the Long Beach East Coast Road branch a year ago. As for the chilli crab - whilst it was definitely a good rendition, it wasn't so good that I could confidently proclaim it the best in Singapore without trying some of the other contenders.

7.5/10

Long Beach @ Dempsey
25 Dempsey Road, Singapore
+6563232222
Average Price: SGD 60

Chatterbox, Singapore

The exact origins of Hainanese Chicken Rice are unknown. Best guess is that it was created by migrants from Hainan Island in China, based on the famous Hainanese dish, the Wenchang Chicken. It's certainly not a dish found in Hainan itself. Popular across Southeast Asia, it has arguably gained greatest fame in Singapore, where it has been adopted as the de facto national dish.

Most of the, numerous, chicken rice places on the island nation are rather modest, coffee-shop types, save for Chatterbox at the Mandarin Orchard, a luxury hotel on Singapore’s most famous shopping street, Orchard Road. Chatterbox also happens to be one of the oldest, and most renowned chicken rice restaurants in town, a reputation it is not slow to play on, using the phrase "Taste The Legend" as its tagline. Chatterbox used to be wildly popular - I remember having to queue for ages for a table many (too many) years ago, when I was but a wee lad. Since then, the word was that Chatterbox's standards had steadily deteriorated, along with the crowds. I certainly know that in the latter years of my childhood, Chatterbox ceased to be a compulsory stop on trips to Singapore. It was to my great surprise, then, that my friends in Singapore suggested Chatterbox for lunch, when I visited them recently. But fair enough, the locals know best; I guess Chatterbox had managed to fix whatever had ailed it in the time since my last meal there, which I estimate, conservatively, at 15 years prior.

Chatterbox

We arrived at 12:20pm, on a Saturday afternoon - bang in the middle of what should have been the peak lunchtime hour - the Chatterbox of yore would have had a queue around the proverbial block. Today, we were able to walk straight in, which I initially thought was a result - we had managed to nab one of the last few tables before the crowds came in - only to spy, upon being seated, a fair number of spare tables, tables that were to remain vacant throughout the lunch service. It was a large room, admittedly, but so was the space the restaurant used to occupy, and fill many times over, on the ground floor. Perhaps its astronomical prices had put people off - a plate of chicken rice was a whopping $27 - easily the most expensive on the island I have no doubt.

Mandarin Fried Chicken Wings: marinated with five spices and chef's secret recipe sauce

We all had the Mandarin Chicken Rice, and also got a serving of Mandarin Fried Chicken Wings: marinated with five spices and chef's secret recipe sauce, to share.
The fried chicken had a decent flavour to it thanks to the 5-spice marinade, but was over-fried. As for the "chef's secret recipe sauce" - nothing all that special. It was passable.

The chicken rice, meanwhile, was bouncy and well-oiled; the poached chicken moist and tender, and came in a delightful light, sweet soy sauce. It was, by all accounts, a very good rendition. But whilst there was nothing wrong with it, there wasn't anything particularly blow-you-away about it either. And given it's longstanding, "legendary" reputation, and claim to be the very best in Singapore, that qualifies as a disappointment.

Mandarin Chicken Rice

In a nutshell...
Was this an enjoyable chicken rice meal? Sure. Was it one of the better chicken rice meals I've had? Definitely. But was it blow-me-away good? No. And at $27 a pop, I class that as a failure. I actually wouldn’t have minded paying the whopping prices here, if the dish was in fact as good as advertised; but it simply wasn’t. To those of you who have thus far refused to cough up such an inordinate amount for a plate of humble chicken rice - you ain't missing that much.

6.5/10

Chatterbox
Mandarin Orchard, 333 Orchard Road, 238867, Singapore
+6568316288/91
Average Price: SGD 40

Honest Burgers, London

Honest Burgers

My burger quest continued at Honest Burgers, a tiny shack in Brixton Village, advocated by a friend (who, rather conveniently, happens to live in Brixton, and thinks that SW9 boasts not just the best burger in town, but also the best pizza, and best coffee, and best…the list goes on – yes I did have some reservations about the validity of the recommendation!), that has steadily been gathering a bit of a cult following.

I had a Cheese Burger: Beef, Red onion relish, cheddar and lettuce. The burger was very good – the patty, made from 35 day aged British Beef sourced from the Ginger Pig, was of a high quality, and well-cooked; the toasted glazed bun, if not quite the best, was certainly amongst the better ones I’ve come across and could not be faulted, and the onion relish was the icing on the cake – I always prefer a burger that has a bit of a sauce to enhance, and moisten things, and it did the job perfectly, even adding a lovely touch of sweetness.

Cheese Burger: Beef, Red onion relish, cheddar and lettuce; Triple-cooked chips

Now the all-important question – where does Honest Burgers rank in the pantheon of great London burgers? Well, I would definitely put it ahead of Bar Boulud and Goodman,  leaving Hawksmoor as its only real competition for top spot, with the caveat that the much talked about MEATliquor is still to be tested. I will be shortly be posting a list describing my favourite burgers in London. Whether Hawksmoor or Honest Burgers comes up tops will be revealed then...

The Triple-cooked chips that came with the burger, on the other hand, were, frankly, horrible – I am firmly of the belief that cooking chips three times is at least once too many, and I have yet to find a rendition to convince me otherwise – if nothing else, triple-cooking makes getting it right that much more challenging, and for my money is hardly worth the extra effort when twice-cooked, or even, banish the thought, just once-cooked chips, would do the job just fine - the version here was heavy, chewy, a little bit too burnt, and lacking totally in crispness; all potential pitfalls with triple-cooked chips. I was distinctly unimpressed, needless to say.

In a nutshell...
Definitely one of the top 2 burgers I have had in London. But is it the best? All will be revealed in a “my favourite burgers in London” post that will be hitting the blog shortly…

7.5/10

Honest Burgers
Unit 12, Brixton Village, London, SW9 8PR
+44 (0)7739182955
Average Price: £10
Worth noting: Closed Mondays

Honest Burgers on Urbanspoon

Indi-Go, London

Indi-Go

Westfield Stratford, the shiny, all-singing, all-dancing, brand spanking new, behemoth of a shopping centre is hardly a place I expected to find myself...like ever, for two reasons: 1.) It's literally the other end of town from me and 2.) There is a Westfield much closer, the original (just about) within walking distance from my flat. But as work took me to within two DLR stops of the scene of the Olympic Park, which houses Westfield Stratford, I seized the opportunity to survey the new build, and needless to say, sample one of its dining options.

First impressions of the Stratford Westfield - it's big; the design and layout is similar, but everything seems to be a super-sized version of the far-from-small Shepherds Bush location. It was crowded, especially given that this was a mid-week evening, but that might just be footfall from curious first-time visitors. As for the dining options - just like the original, many of the food outlets here are chains, but the class of chain at Stratford would appear to be of a higher quality, at least on "The Balcony" - the likes of Rosa's and Franca Manca, for example, are very highly regarded. That makes a pleasant change, given the paucity of decent eating options at the original Westfield. I opted for Indi-Go, an Indian street food vendor that I had heard some good things about. Indian street food, ironically served anywhere but on the streets, is clearly the in-thing on the London dining scene right now, with a new outlet popping up seemingly every week - given the generally high standard of the offerings, I'm loving it.

Aloo Tikki Ragda: Fresh Potato Cakes. Stuffed with coriander, ginger, blend of spices, cumin seeds, topped with chickpeas, red onion served on tamarind sauce

There are standard curries with rice on the menu at Indi-Go, but I went with three choices from the "Street Food" section. For those of you unfamiliar with how the system works on “The Balcony” at the Westfields, you place your order at the counter and are presented with a pager that will buzz to alert you when the food is ready (a matter of minutes); you return to the counter to collect your food, then find a suitable spot within the vast dining hall to park yourself. All very efficient.

Lamb Sheik Kebab Wrap: Minced grilled kebab, lettuce, onions, tomato, and yoghurt wrapped in soft naan

Aloo Tikki Ragda: Fresh Potato Cakes. Stuffed with coriander, ginger, blend of spices, cumin seeds, topped with chickpeas, red onion served on tamarind sauce was delectable - the potato cakes crisp and tasty; the sauce full of flavour.

Meanwhile, the Lamb Sheik Kebab Wrap: Minced grilled kebab, lettuce, onions, tomato, and yoghurt wrapped in soft naan was very enjoyable - the kebab, not dry, as I was almost certain it would be, and possessing a good chargrilled flavour, complimented by a lovely, yoghurty sauce, all wrapped in a soft, fluffy nan bread.
Finally, Pav Bhaji: Famous from the streets of India mashed vegetables in a tangy cumin sauce served on hot toasted bun was superb - the sauce was delicious - appetising and well spiced; and to lap it up a lightly buttered, toasted, crisp on the edges, soft and pillowy on the inside, brioche-like bun that was the equal of any bun I have come across. Despite being very full, I just couldn't stop.

My Mango Lassi was, for possibly the first time ever, not too thick.

Pav Bhaji: Famous from the streets of India mashed vegetables in a tangy cumin sauce served on hot toasted bun

In a nutshell...

Indian street food is fast becoming commonplace on the London dining scene, and Indi-Go can hold its own against the best. Despite its origins on the streets of India, the modest food court at Westfield seems ill-fitting for Indi-Go's dishes. Perhaps it’s because the prices were a touch on the expensive side for what it professes to be - that was my biggest (only) issue with Indi-Go. Or more likely, its because I could easily see these dishes at more upmarket establishments; and indeed they surpassed much of what I was served not so long ago at Veeraswamy. Now if only I could take a gentle stroll, rather than have to negotiate the vagaries of three tube lines, to get home.

7.5/10

Indi-Go
The Balcony, Westfield Stratford Shopping Centre, Stratford, London, E20 1EJ
Average Price: £15-£20

Poppies, London

Poppies

Pat 'Pop' Newland, a veteran east end fryer who started his fish and chip career way back in 1945, recently came out of retirement to open Poppies at Spitalfields. The styling at Poppies plays on its roots, using a '50s theme, with old jukeboxes and various other fittings from that era, and a very cheery pastel blue colour scheme - I loved it. The food, however, left so much to be desired. This was on old-school chippie alright, in all the worst ways. The fish wasn't even cooked to order, but instead served from a heating cabinet. I had a Regular Cod & Chips, with a side order of Mushy Peas. The fish was, unsurprisingly, not exactly as crisp as could be. The batter too, was very ordinary - never mind my two recent finds, Geales and Kerbisher & Malt, any of the other fish & chip shops I used to frequent (and bemoan) before discovering "The Big Two" would have wiped the floor with Poppies. Hand cut chips were okay - they were clearly made with good spuds, but were, again, lacking in crispness. The tartare sauce needed more gherkin; the mushy peas, supposedly "homemade", tasted like a tinned version. Service, described as haphazard by others, was fine, and friendly, on my visit.

Regular Cod & Chips w Mushy Peas

In a nutshell...
Just because someone has done something for many years doesn't necessarily mean they're any good at it. Poppies is a case in point. It wasn't horrible, mind, but given the owner's background, I was expecting a whole lot better. If this is what an old-school chippie is, please, bring on the new-school.

3.5/10

Poppies
6-8 Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR
+44 (0)2072470892
Average Price: £10-£15

Poppies Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Yoshino, London

Yoshino Zen "YUKI"

Yoshino used to be one of my favourite hidden London restaurants. Located off Piccadilly Place, on a tiny side street with nothing other than a small neon side saying "Sushi” to indicate its, or anything else's presence, this used to be my go to place if I happened to be shopping solo in the area - service was pleasant, and quick; food was of a very decent standard; and prices, especially when sticking to the set meals, were very agreeable.

It had been a while since I last visited, and I immediately noticed that the menu had changed. They used to do a very good value-for-money set meal, called the Yoshino Zen "YUKI", which included several pieces of sashimi, a lovely grilled mackerel, sweet potato tempura, salad, miso soup and rice all for a tenner. The Yoshino Zen "YUKI" was still on the menu, but its components had changed significantly, and it was now £12. But more on that later. On this occasion, I went instead for the Yoshino Zen "TSUKI", which, for £20, comprised of: Tuna Carpaccio, Wild Jumbo Prawn Tempura, California Spicy Tuna Rolls, California Organic Salmon Rolls.

Yoshino Zen "TSUKI"

Tempura items could be found all over the re-made Yoshino menu, and they were all starred as Chef's Recommendations, so I don't think it was unreasonable of me to assume that they had recently acquired some sort of expertise in the matter. It’s what prompted me to order the "TSUKI", in fact, to sample the tempura. How wrong I was. The tempura batter was heavy, and not particularly crisp - it was a decidedly below average version. The rest of the items were alright, exactly how you might expect them, but nothing jumped off the plate (apart from the spicy tuna rolls that used a curry sauce to impart the "spice" - weird, and not at all successful; oh and the use of avocado that was insufficiently ripe, and hence too hard, in the salmon rolls). And at £20, value for money wasn't exactly in Yoshino's corner anymore either, even if the portion of tempura was fairly generous.

Homemade Dessert Platter: Green Tea Tiramisu, Black Sesame Panna Cotta and Green Tea Ice Cream

For puds on this first visit, I had a Homemade Dessert Platter with Green Tea Tiramisu, Black Sesame Panna Cotta and Green Tea Ice Cream. The earthy Black Sesame Panna Cotta was easily the best, but again, nothing out of the ordinary.

I would return exactly a week later, this time opting for the Yoshino Zen "YUKI" that had served me so well in the past, albeit in a different guise. It was now made up of: Tuna Carpaccio (a smaller portion than the "TSUKI", Fried Chicken, Tuna Roll, Omelette Roll, Japanese Salad.

As with the “TSUKI”, nothing stood out particularly, but the katsu chicken was at least crisp, unlike the tempura, and most importantly, the cost fell more within my perception of Yoshino as a reasonably priced quick bite place. For dessert, a Homemade Maccha Azuki lacked any real green tea, or red bean flavour, was too cold, and so sour it tasted only of milk that had gone off.

Homemade Maccha Azuki

In a nutshell...
Yoshino is, most disappointingly, no longer what it used to be. The refined service that attracted me in the past remains, but the value-for-money and quality food that used to be such attractions are no more. It will be a while before I return.

4.5/10

Yoshino
3 Piccadilly Place, London, W1J 0DB
+44 (0)2072876622
Average Price: £15-£25

Yoshino on Urbanspoon

Morgan M, London

Braised French Rabbit Leg brushed with Sage, Couscous with Almond and Lemon Confit

Largely residential, slightly obscure Liverpool Road in Islington is hardly the first place one would expect to find a fine dining French establishment. But that’s exactly where highly regarded chef Morgan Meunier has made his home, cooking, as he did on this night, to full houses regularly including it is said, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, and to wide critical acclaim since he first opened Morgan M in 2003.

Tartar of Two Salmons, One Smoked, One Fresh, Rocket and Mizuna Salad, Fromage Blanc and Lemon Sorbet, Thin Tuile

The restaurant is tastefully decorated, in green and dark red hues, making for an unequivocally French feel to the place. We went for the “Summer Menu”, a 6-course tasting menu, with two options each for the appetiser, meat and dessert courses – we decided to order the reverse of each other, so between the two of us, had all the choices covered.

Ballotine of Foie Gras, Apricot and Chervil Salad, Toasted Brioche

Things were kicked off with a very summery, refreshing Chilled Charentais Melon Soup, Parma Ham, Porto Sorbet that had a pleasing contrast of sweetness and saltiness. My starter, Tartar of Two Salmons, One Smoked, One Fresh, Rocket and Mizuna Salad, Fromage Blanc and Lemon Sorbet, Thin Tuile was reasonable, but suffered, as is so often the case, from the “salmon effect” – the tendency, because of the nature of the fish, for salmon dishes to be neither outstanding, nor terrible. The ice-cold lemon sorbet was a commendable, creative touch however, that did lift the dish somewhat. The other starter, Ballotine of Foie Gras, Apricot and Chervil Salad, Toasted Brioche was very good – quality foie gras, well complemented with the apricot and salad, with a lovely, light brioche the perfect vessel for the foie gras.

Seared Fillet of Red Mullet, Braised Octopus and Fennel, Tomato Sauce

The fish course, Seared Fillet of Red Mullet, Braised Octopus and Fennel, Tomato Sauce, was just a tad overcooked, but very appetising, with the octopus especially standing out. My main course, Braised French Rabbit Leg brushed with Sage, Couscous with Almond and Lemon Confit, Mustard Sauce was excellent – tender, well seasoned rabbit, complemented with a mustard sauce that was tasty but not too overpowering, and a fine couscous that added a different texture to the dish. The other meat option, Grilled Anjou Squab Pigeon, Steamed Baby Artichoke, Mange tout, Red Wine and Juniper Sauce was also a success, if a little less special than my rabbit.

Grilled Anjou Squab Pigeon, Steamed Baby Artichoke, Mange tout, Red Wine and Juniper Sauce

A pre-dessert of Light Vanilla Rice Pudding, Orange Tuile was beautifully balanced, and delicious. The only disappointing dishes of the night were the desserts. Mirabelle Plum Soufflé and Coulis, Rum and Raisin Ice-Cream was a bit too eggy, and not nearly airy enough, whereas ‘Charlotte aux Fraises’, Strawberry Sorbet and Coulis had too strong a strawberry flavour, and a poor cake base.

Light Vanilla Rice Pudding, Orange TuileMirabelle Plum Soufflé and Coulis, Rum and Raisin Ice-Cream

In a nutshell...
It was a pity that the meal ended on a slight downer, with the desserts easily the weakest offerings of the night, but that shouldn’t detract too much from the overall quality of the meal, which was high. Monsieur Meunier demonstrated a pleasing ability to churn out good-tasting, well-balanced dishes with elements complementing, and, crucially, never overwhelming each other – this was a borderline Michelin Star level meal, at very reasonable prices - £52 for the tasting menu, £43 for three courses from the a la carte.

One should also note that there is now a second Morgan M venue, recently opened near the Barbican.

7/10

Morgan M (Islington)
489 Liverpool Road, London, N7 8NS
+44 (0)2076093560
Average Price: £50

Morgan M on Urbanspoon

New Year, new address

Wishing a Happy New Year 2012 to one and all! To ring in the new year, One Man’s Meat… is moving to its own domain, www.onemansmeat.co

Please update your bookmarks accordingly, and thanks for your continued readership!

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