(Source: www.straitstimes.com)

CRISP OYSTER CAKE

A colleague tells me that not so long ago, it was relatively easy to find deep-fried oyster cake.

Now, I can think of two places – one at Maxwell Road Food Centre and the other at Berseh Food Centre.

Early one Sunday morning, I stake out Fu Zhou Poh Hwa Oyster Cake at Berseh and those crisp fritters ($1.80 each) really make my day.

What makes them great is that they emerge from the deep fryer crisp and not oil-logged. There is a perfect ratio of filling to batter, which is to say the fritter is thin and crisp, not bready and chewy. The filling of oysters, prawns and pork gets a flavour punch with chopped-up, pungent Chinese celery. Peanuts or whitebait are scattered on the fritters before they are deep-fried, adding to the crunch.

Next time I go, I’ll get the upsized version ($2.30), with more filling.

WHERE: Fu Zhou Poh Hwa Oyster Cake, 02-34 Berseh Food Centre, 166 Jalan Besar MRT: Farrer Park OPEN: 10am to 6pm daily TEL: 9029-9718

AMAZING ARAKAWA

At Orchard Plaza is a nondescript Japanese restaurant that you have to seek out.

It is worth the effort. Arakawa Osaka Cuisine, a tiny restaurant with just 14 counter seats, is a serene place so at odds with its neighbours – kebab shops, karaoke lounges, money changers and an adult toy shop.

Once you step through the doors, however, you are in Seiichiro Arakawa’s world.

The 61-year-old chef, whose last gig was at the now-shuttered kushikatsu restaurant Han at Odeon Towers, runs this new kappo restaurant, where seasonal food is prepared in front of customers using a variety of cooking methods.

His $80++ omakase meal is great value. Diners get a trio of appetisers; sashimi; steamed, grilled and fried dishes; the main course; and dessert.

On the night I dine there, the corn tofu topped with uni, one of the three appetisers, is a delicious morsel gone too soon. Firm, fatty kanpachi belly topped with ikura is the sashimi course (I can do without the truffle salt) and I love the tender octopus served with gloriously chewy fu, cubes of gluten, from Kyoto.

Tempura, yuba and a juicy piece of grilled pork round off the meal.

The omakase is available from 6 to 11pm and the menu changes every Tuesday.

After 11pm, the restaurant serves a la carte food and, without doubt, the oden is the star of that menu. I have been a fan of Arakawa-san’s oden since his days at Han and I am glad he continues to serve it, from a handsome copper vessel.

Options range in price from $3 to $5. Pick the daikon ($4), konnyaku ($4), fried tofu ($5) and siew mai ($3). They are great with beer or sake and perfect for one last stop before going home.

WHERE: Arakawa Osaka Cuisine, 01-34 Orchard Plaza MRT: Somerset OPEN: 6pm to 3am (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays TEL: 6733-0107

OLD-SCHOOL YONG TAU FOO

There are some restaurants you go past all the time and stop noticing because they’ve become so much a part of the streetscape.

While running errands in East Coast Road recently, I walk by the nondescript storefront of Ampang Niang Tou Fu, do a double take and promptly go in and have lunch.

It has been far too long.

During that time, I have missed handmade yong tau foo with a killer fish, prawn and dried sole filling. The sole makes all the difference, giving the filling a smoky, luxurious taste.

A one-person serving costs $7 and comes with two pieces of tau kwa or firm beancurd, one piece of stuffed tau pok, one chilli, one okra, one large fishball, one vegetable-studded piece of fish cake, one piece of stuffed eggplant, a slice of stuffed bittergourd and a square of deep-fried beancurd skin.

The best piece is the eggplant, which has that alluring crisp-soggy quality deep-fried food has when it is soaked in some sort of broth or sauce. Think of tempura drizzled with a soya glaze, for example.

You can have the yong tau foo with chilli and sweet bean sauces, but they are perfect just as they are.

It is safe to say that Ampang Niang Tou Fu is no longer just part of the streetscape for me.

WHERE: Ampang Niang Tou Fu, 225 East Coast Road MRT: Eunos OPEN: 11.30am to 8.30pm (Thursdays to Tuesdays), closed on Wednesdays TEL: 6345-3289

CHIC CHIRASHI

Chirashi bowls have become so popular here, especially for lunch. You just cannot go wrong with seasoned Japanese rice topped with raw fish.

However, so many bowls are just plain ugly. Hacked-up pieces of fish haphazardly arranged just do not look appetising, no matter how big and thick those slabs are.

Tokyo Joe, a new casual restaurant at Savourworld in Science Park Drive, does chirashi with a lot more finesse.

The Premium Bara Chirashi ($19 at lunch, $22 at dinner) is a good example. Tuna and salmon are cubed neatly and nestle on the rice with omelette, ikura and thick slices of sweet scallop.

The surprise here is firm, fatty hamachi. The seafood is marinated with white soya sauce, a small detail perhaps, but one that tells you the chefs are serious about doing things properly.

And it’s not just about aesthetics either. The rice is well-seasoned, although they can cut back on the sweetness and amp up the tartness.

Other options include Salmon Chirashi ($13 at lunch, $16 at dinner) and Maguro Chirashi ($18 at lunch, $21 at dinner), both of which are good value, especially at lunch time.

Prices are higher at dinner because it is table service, compared with the queue, pay and collect system at lunch time.

Yakitori and bar bites are available at dinner, but they are nothing to write home about yet, so just stick to the rice bowls for now.

WHERE: Tokyo Joe, 01-24 Savourworld, 2 Science Park Drive MRT: Kent Ridge OPEN: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 4 to 10pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays TEL: 6266-0506

More Info: www.straitstimes.com

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