Spices Cafe, Singapore

since i only had 4 full weekdays in sunny singapore after my last internship ended and before i was off to new york, food consumed for each meal was a very deliberate and purposeful choice. the mother insisted on taking me to this lunch buffet before being packed off to the uk (where good nonya food is far from aplenty) and though initially hesitant about departing from my firm favourites (ie bak chor mee/roti prata/chirashi round 2/3/4), i’m really glad spices cafe made the final cut because i left extremely satisfied and all ready to return to the land of roast chicken and grilled salmon.

located in the oft-overlooked concorde hotel that is at the less happening part of orchard road just before the istana, spices cafe serves up a yummy peranakan buffet lunch in a nice setting that far exceeded my expectations. they offer almost any nonya dish you can imagine, and i would say that almost everything i tried was above average which is no mean feat given the huge array of food available.
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managed to snap some pics of the glorious food sitting all nice and pretty before the hungry patrons attacked:
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rojak & gado-gado station
okay faithful followers of this blog (thank you guys!!!) will know that i am a fan of rojak (my all-time favourite being silver stream rojak) but few people know that i am also a fan of gado-gado so a rojak AND gado-gado station was like… a dream come true hahaha. started off with this but went back many many many more times. the rojak is completely DIY – you make the sauce yourself based on the recipe displayed there which makes for quite a fun experience, and its always nice to personalise your rojak with just the ingredients you want. for me, its always lots of peanuts and pineapple 😀 the recipe was not bad i have to say; the final product tasted pretty good every time i mixed a plate!

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kway chap & laksa

20140917_120553popiah / kueh pie tee / satay
the popiah & kueh pie tee are made on-the-spot by the chef manning the station, and they have both chicken and pork satay that come accompanied by ketupat, cucumber, the all-important peanut sauce, and some pineapple sauce too! yum…

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cooked main dishes
they had a huge array of cooked dishes including the quintessential nonya dishes like chap chye, buah keluak (was really disappointed by this though!!! rather sad because i adore buah keluak so much that my maid sometimes cooks and freezes it for me to take back to ldn with me 😛 ), prawns with petai etc. they even have a daily crab dish – it was black pepper on the day we went, and i was pleasantly surprised by how the black pepper seasoning was spot-on and the crab meat was firm, naturally sweet and juicy. bibs are provided so that serious crab eaters can leave without evidence of their crustacean feast; a nice touch!

20140917_120513dessert spread
i would have dubbed this the best part of the buffet, except everything else was really rather yummy too so the amazing dessert spread will just have to be deemed another great part of the buffet 🙂

on to some close-ups of the food i had the great pleasure of savouring:
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one of the many rounds i went for – here i sampled the (going in a clockwise direction starting from the bottom) petai with prawn, chap chye, pork, squid, egg fu yong and oyster omelette. all of them were good, but the stand-out for me was definitely the squid. it was wonderfully tasty and the squid was cooked to perfection (neither rubbery nor mushy), something not easy to achieve when mass-cooking for hungry buffet-goers. i also liked the chap chye, a classic nonya dish done well.

also had several rolls of freshly-made popiah throughout the meal:20140917_122220
i’ve definitely had better popiah elsewhere, but this was not a bad rendition at all. the popiah skin was thin, filling was tasty, and chilli added just the right kick to it. i would have liked the addition of more crispy garlic bits to add some texture though. i loved how the rolls were smaller than the regular popiah rolls you get at other places – big enough to satisfy popiah cravings but small enough so that there’s still space in one’s stomach for other food. also note the kueh pie tee in the background – yummy! but i feel they would have been made even more optimal with the addition of some prawns or peanuts on top.

besides the “soupy” laksa and kway chap dishes they had, there was also a big pot of pig organ soup. i’m not a fan but my mother had a bowl and seemed to quite enjoy it:20140917_123441
speaking of the laksa and kway chap, i don’t have a picture of the laksa but i very fondly recall it to be a very good bowl of laksa – deliciously lemak but not too rich, creamy or heavy. i daresay it was better than bowls of laksa i’ve had from katong laksa and the like. didn’t try the kway chap, but it looked pretty good with a whole range of condiments (tau pok, egg, tau kwa, innards etc) to pick to go with the kway chap.

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another of the many rounds of food – you can see i took more squid. in fact, i took it every single time i paid a visit to the buffet spread 😛 yes, i liked it that much! on this plate there’s better scale to see the aforementioned fun-sized popiah, each roll was cut into just also had some glutinous rice and fried carrot cake this round, along with satay. the fried carrot cake was very average, i remember thinking it could be tastier (but then again, its hard to please with anything other than ghim moh carrot cake heh). as for the satay, i was impressed! both the chicken and pork satays were tasty, tender and moist. super yummy when generously drizzled with both peanut and pineapple sauce. YUM.

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another staple of the day – gado-gado!!! had several servings of this and took plenty of tempeh every single time. i love tempeh!!! (do you sense my excitement) the peanut sauce to go with the gado-gado was great, and i loved how the tau kwa and carrots were cut into big chunks and not measly pieces. could really do with some of that delicious tempeh now…

and finally, on to the glorious dessert:
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the dessert spread did not disappoint. besides the huge assortment of kuehs, there was an array of fresh fruit, a chendol machine, bubur cha cha, putu mayam, and potong ice cream in assorted flavours. this is one buffet you definitely want (and need) to save space for dessert at…
absolutely loved how there were 2 huge bowls of thick, creamy and super yummy durian and banana sauce at the side of the kuehs, to be generously slathered on all kuehs as desired. the durian penyet also deserves a special shout-out: creamy, smooth and thick – a durian lover’s dream come true! the bubur cha cha was good but i would have liked it with some jackfruit (in fact i think i stole some from the fresh fruits section and added it 😛 ), and all the kuehs were good. the more common ones (kueh lapis, 9 layer kueh etc) were done well, while there were some more novel ones added to the mix as well. i didn’t have much of the putu mayam, but my aunty is a fan and she had 2 servings of it (even after all that food) so it must have been good!!!

at a really affordable price of $32++ ($23++ for above 55s), there is really nothing much to complain about at this buffet. not only is the food delicious, the service is also great – the restaurant is staffed with several lovely ladies in traditional peranakan kebayas who make you feel as if you’ve stepped into their homes for some comfort food. also love that this is in a quieter part of orchard road, tucked away along a stretch few walk along because most would hop on the train from somerset to dhoby ghaut; its like one of orchard road’s hidden gems (but now you know about it 😉 ) definitely no regrets spending one of my treasured last meals in sg of the summer on this place, and i won’t be surprised if it actually gets added to my list of must-gos when home for the holidays. its truly the perfect one-stop spot to satisfy peranakan food cravings; i can’t wait to head back for more… till christmas!

Spices Cafe
Concorde Hotel
Singapore 238840

PS. ever thankful for the best family that is always always always willing to go all-out to satisfy my random food cravings with me, even if it means having double the number of meals we normally have 🙂 ❤

Hanare Japanese Cafe, Singapore

finally got to try the much raved about teppei barachirashi one night after work last week; it was the perfect way to reward myself after a whole day of being cooped up in the office! we didn’t have it at teppei itself because teppei only does omakase at night (and i hear they are fully booked for their attractively affordable omakase dinners for months); neither did we have it at hana hana (also opened by teppei and located right next to it) which serves teppei’s lunch menu in the day, but focuses on yakitori at night. that left us with hanare, another off-shoot by teppei (that makes them a trio of restaurants) which offers a japanese buffet as well as some simple set meals in a really fuss-free and family-friendly environment. hanare is located a stone’s throw away from teppei and hana hana, at the top floor of a shophouse along tanjong pagar road. look out for the signs they place along the walkway so you don’t miss the doorway with this staircase that will take you right up to the cafe: 20140710_183435 helps in working up an appetite 😉 we were there right when they opened at 630pm, and were among the first few to arrive. i was really pleasantly surprised because i imagined we’d have to queue after hearing horror stories about the snaking queues at all 3 teppei outlets during lunchtime that start forming at least half an hour before they open (do these people not need to work?!)! since the prices at hanare are the same both at lunch and dinner, i would say it definitely makes heaps more sense to go for dinner; avoiding lunch crowds is always the way to go! as the word “cafe” in its name suggests, hanare is meant to offer a very simple no-frills experience. decor is really simple and doesn’t feel much like a japanese restaurant at all; in fact the whole set-up seems a little makeshift, with basic tables and chairs and bare walls.20140710_183901 you place your order and pay at the cashier before taking a seat. there are a few options to choose from – the japanese buffet (at a really affordable price of $19.90), the bara set (equally affordable $17.60), and the hanare special (just $12)!20140710_183551 we were there to try the famed teppei barachirashi, so we went for 2 bara sets. the bara set comes with a bowl of the barachirashi as well as a free flow of 4 side dishes. the side dishes available as part of this set change on a daily basis if i’m not wrong, and on that particular day, this was what was available: 20140710_183636i do think the presentation of the dishes can be improved on but for the price we paid, i really didn’t think there was any reason to complain. the 4 sides available that day were (from left to right in the above picture) salad, a stew, edamame, and something that tasted like a cross between a fishcake and potato cake in some kind of sweet sauce (clearly i wasn’t really a fan of this… hahaha). as part of the bara set, you can also help yourself to the white rice, miso soup and japanese tea available at the buffet table. 20140710_184158took a mix of the side dishes to snack on while waiting for our barachirashi to be served. the salad greens (tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce) were actually very fresh and made for a refreshing side dish when paired with the sesame dressing that was provided. the edamame seemed slightly overcooked to the point of being a little soggy, but the beans within weren’t affected so no complaints about this either (gotta love edamame!). as for the stew, i think it was meant to be something like oden although there was no fishcake in it (if i’m not wrong, japanese fishcake is usually a key ingredient in oden); instead it was a mix of carrots, radish, lotus root and chicken. i really enjoyed it, especially because i am a huge fan of daikon and lotus root!!! the broth was light and tasty, and i had quite a few servings of this. finally we come to the unidentifiable fishcake-type thing which i really did not fancy, especially because it was cold after being left at the buffet table for quite a while. had half of a piece and left the rest… service is efficient and our barachirashi arrived really soon after we placed our order. it was all quite exciting finally seeing the bowl of chirashi that i had seen countless pictures of sitting very very pretty right before me: 20140710_184259 the first thing that struck me about the bowl of chirashi was that i could barely see the rice hidden below the chunks of fish. definitely a good sign! as evidenced by the picture above, they were really generous with the fish for the price, and i have to say that the fish was really quite fresh. there was a mixture of tuna, salmon, scallop, ikura, yellowtail etc, and all of it was thoroughly seasoned with a soy-based marinade (if my tastebuds did not fail me). topped with some seaweed, spring onions and sesame seeds, it made for am extremely tasty bowl of chirashi. my only qualm was that the sashimi could have been better chilled while the rice could have been cooled down a little more before serving. it was as if they just scooped straight out from the rice cooker (in fact, they probably did?) and piled seasoned fish on top of the rice; i felt the rice was seriously lacking in rice vinegar and everything else that makes sushi rice sushi rice, it felt like i was basically eating a bowl of white rice. also, the rice was so hot that some pieces of sashimi appeared to have cooked a little after mixing it all together?! definitely not how i like my chirashi… all that said, can’t deny that this was still a great bowl of sashimi goodness, especially for the extremely affordable price. so how does teppei’s chirashi compare with its counterparts at my other favourite haunts (ie aoki and sushi bar)? i actually think they’re all different so it depends on what you’re looking for! at the sushi bar, the chirashi is basically very fresh and delicious pieces of sashimi very generously laid atop a bed of rice; it is completely unseasoned, just good, sweet, thick slabs of unadulterated sashimi. at aoki on the other hand, there’s just something amazing about how everything is put together and some magical aoki touch is added to it, making quite possibly the most perfect bowl of mazechirashi ever. the fish pieces at aoki are small but provided extremely generously (still has the highest fish to rice ratio, in my opinion) and yes, quite clearly, aoki still has my vote for the best bowl of chirashi in singapore; even if not the best, definitely my favourite. at teppei, the seasoning is soy sauce-based which makes it tasty, but i think i prefer a lighter seasoning so that the flavours and freshness of the fish isn’t lost. took a quick look at what they offered as part of the buffet spread, and found that the food was very simple and home-style. don’t expect any fancy or fine japanese cooking or foods; what they had available as part of the buffet spread consisted of a lot of japanese curries, katsudon, gyoza, siew mais, soba etc:20140710_183744 20140710_194046 i’d probably give the buffet a miss, but the chirashi is something i am likely to return for if i’m looking for a cheap japanese meal in the tanjong pagar area. if i’m pining for chirashi and desperately need to satisfy a dire craving though, i’d probably be more content if i head to the sushi bar or aoki. don’t get me wrong – it was definitely a good bowl of chirashi and i will return for it, but for some reason (perhaps the strange temperatures of the rice and fish?) i probably wouldn’t constantly miss it as i do with aoki’s… have to acknowledge the fact that the former is definitely much much more wallet-friendly than the latter though!

Hanare Japanese Cafe
99B Tanjong Pagar Rd
Singapore 088520

20140710_183508Processed with VSCOcam with hb1 preset another pic of the chirashi for good measure PS. perfect place for dessert after the meal, keeping with the japanese theme, tsujiri tea house at 100am mall for the best matcha soft serve ever!!! IMG_20140710_234908 best best best