W39 Bistro & Bakery, Jalan Mas Puteh

Recently on Facebook, I came across this post that talked about cafes in “ulu” (i.e. description of a place that is far from civilisation) parts of Singapore. These aren’t exactly unpopular cafes, the very fact that they were mentioned and listed in the post obviously means that despite their unpopular locations, they have still garnered quite a following, suggesting that there should be something good about them that warrants a visit perhaps. Or maybe it is just due to the fickle nature of cafe-goers to always check out someplace new, and with posts being shared on social media, especially by those with a wide follower base, it isn’t hard to gain popularity whether or not there is a good product behind it. Marketing is important, more so that the product, when it comes to attracting crowds, but of course when we talk about sustainability, many other factors come into play, so we shall see if the cafes listed on that post are still around in time to come. Who knows? But most of them, I may not even have the chance to visit once, let alone re-visit, simply because they are just too faraway for me to consider, unless someone again volunteers transport!

Over the Good Friday long weekend, my friend suggested checking out W39 Bistro & Bakery that is located in the West Coast area. When I first heard West Coast, I was thinking to myself, “What – where?” because to me, that is just ‘ulu’. Even though it is probably nearer to where I stay now as compared to before, west coast connotes a very faraway locale that I went at most a couple of times in the past. East Coast rings a closer vibe somewhat, because I’d only associate it with Marine Parade, which is just a short distance away from the downtown area of Suntec/Marina (ok it may be further but that is just my own thinking).

Anyway, as my friend’s driving and offered to pick me up from home, I gladly and readily agreed. Hehe, that is how easy it is to get me to go somewhere, just provide the transport! I Googled W39 and read about its ‘iconic blue-and-yellow chairs’, which I thought was funny/interesting because it conjures up a sort of beach image to me – like deck chairs that we would see on the pristine beaches somewhere else? But it was anything but. There was no shoreline, not even a silver of lake, where W39 is located. The road name in itself, Jalan Mas Puteh, makes me think like we were going somewhere outside of Singapore. It’s actually within a private residential estate somewhere in the western part of Singapore, not that far off from Clementi actually, so it isn’t that far west (think Boon Lay or Pioneer). Along the way there, making our way to find a parking spot, it reminded me of the Upper Thomson area where there were some cafes also located within a private landed estate.

I didn’t take any photos of the place, but you can easily find them online and you will see the blue-and-yellow decor that was described of the cafe. We perused the menu, and I was a little torn, whether to order the usual stuff that I would order for brunch, or try something new, which is local offerings of breakfast food. In the end, I chose the Nasi Lemak! I know it isn’t something exceptional, but I haven’t had it in a really long time and considering that I needed more protein to enable my body to recover faster, I thought this would be a good idea because of the chicken thigh that is the main feature of this dish! Ok, there is coconut rice too but I didn’t really take much of it so I can’t really comment – but I think it’s not as fragrant as traditional nasi lemak from the hawkers though.

So there you go, my Nasi Lemak with Roasted Chicken Thigh, that came with half a grilled tomato and poached egg – talk about fusion, haha. The ikan bilis was nice and crunchy and the sambal chilli was really something that I had missed. It feels like a long time too since I last had such sambal chilli, and although it’s a little too sweet and salty for my palate now, it complements the rice and chicken well. The chicken felt a little dry though, despite that it looks more fried than roasted, so maybe I can comfort myself that it isn’t oily or dripping in oil.My friend’s order is also pretty interesting, a fusion of sorts, but of the sweet and savoury type – Eggs Benedict, which was shredded lamb shank and mushrooms on their Butter Top Loaf (which turned out to be a waffle?). She found it pretty light despite that it’s waffle and lamb, because there wasn’t that much lamb on it, maybe something like pulled pork and the waffle was the light, fluffy type and not the thick spongy kind. I might have ordered this too, if not for the fact that I don’t really like having so much sauce on eggs, i.e. I have never ordered Eggs Ben for brunch, and I don’t really take lamb/mutton. But the veggies looked good though! After this, she still had quite some space left in her stomach so a dessert was ordered, which I actually had quite a bit of too, despite my huge nasi lemak.
The Mister Chocolate cake, a chocolate sponge cake with chocolate chips, covered with melted chocolate, came served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The cake was served warm, I think, because the layer of chocolate outside was in slight molten form when it came, and the fact that it’s actually a sponge cake on the inside made it more enjoyable because it isn’t too dense and heavy for a chocolate cake. I don’t really like brownies so much as a dessert because they are too dense and overwhelming for one person to have. The vanilla ice-cream complemented the cake very well too, although its taste wasn’t particularly distinctively vanilla like some that I have tried. It was a very generous scoop that was given though, so at S$6.80 for this, it’s actually pretty value-for-money.I also had a coffee, which was not too bad (can’t comment as usual) but sometimes I really wished that Long Blacks / Americanos came in larger sizes. I know that good coffee doesn’t need to be in large quantities, but I am perhaps too used to the Tall sizes of Starbucks to find the coffee cups in these cafes too small. Maybe my strategy in future should be to order the coffee only after I have my food, so that it can still be hot / warm to drink, and that I can slowly sip and enjoy the coffee properly after eating.

Flock Café (relocated)

Since I moved, I thought it would be a good idea to start checking out the TB stretch of hipster cafes, which I had always wanted to do so ever since the first of those cafes started sprouting up there. It was always a tad out of the way though, and at some point I had started to deride TB as over-hyped, because to be really honest, some of these cafes (and many others around the island), aren’t up to scratch at all – they are just carbon copies of one another, which is ironic, because most pride themselves to be different in some way, not conforming to the usual cookie-cutter chain cafes like SB or CBTL. The funny thing is, with these cafes all adopting the industrial-chic look or whatever you want to call it, putting together non-matching pieces of furniture in a haphazard manner, they have become a cookie-cutter sort of template. But there are some that have withstood the test of time, and fickle consumer tastes, to last for years and are still standing today. Some of them have probably evolved into highly-commercialised entities that have lost their ‘unique’ lustre, whereas others have stuck to their original concept with perhaps a loyal fan-base.

Cafes in the TB stretch have also come and go, with some surviving the harsh and overpopulated cafe scene in Singapore. The Dispensary, a cafe along the main Tiong Bahru Road, has closed before I even had a chance to step beyond its doors. I was luckier with this other cafe, Flock, located along Moh Guan Terrace. I met my cousin one weekend and brought her there, having walked past it one day when I was exploring the area and made a mental note to return.

It was fairly crowded when we visited on Saturday afternoon (that was in January), but we were fortunate to get a table for the 2 of us on the inside, sort of on the ‘mezzanine’ deck, or the area beyond the counter. It’s a very small cafe with a narrow layout, but it could probably accommodate about 20-odd patrons inside. Maybe. Someone found us the table, and I’m not sure if he’s the owner since he didn’t seem like he was part of the crew or wearing what the other crew members wore.

So for brunch, we each ordered a coffee.We also picked the scrambled eggs with sourdough bread to share, priced at S$8 (I think). The egg was quite smooth and runny, fragrant, and also comes in quite an ok portion for us. I would have liked it more if it were egg whites, but then regular scrambled eggs for sharing is fine, otherwise all of it for me might have been too ‘eggy’. I really love the sourdough bread, which goes very well with the egg and butter! I think I could have just ordered this with a coffee and be a very happy camper. 2 large slices of bread were served in this dish.
The other item we got to share was the French Toast, which I thought my cousin would enjoy, since it seems like most people like French Toast? I don’t know, I am not a very big fan of it because it’s always heavily-drenched in syrup that makes the bread too moist and soft, which I DO NOT LIKE. I prefer my breads crunchy to a certain extent, rather it be hard than soft. The only French Toast that I liked were the ones that my mum used to make when I was young and there was leftover bread about to expire. Those were what we called Bombay Toast, or what the Home Economic textbooks called it, bread dipped in a mixture of egg and sugar, and then fried.

Flock’s version of the French Toast was similarly drenched in syrup, and served with a portion of curious-looking bacon that my cousin didn’t dare to eat. Somehow it looks like it’s overcooked or something. Anyway, we didn’t touch it at all because I don’t take bacon. This was also served with banana and some strawberries (maybe one, cut into small pieces), which I would definitely have liked more of. Overall, we both preferred the sourdough with scrambled eggs, which is a simpler (and cheaper) brunch option. The French Toast, if I recalled correctly, was S$15. But maybe French Toast lovers would still like it? Sometime after that, I thought I read somewhere that they were closing the TB outlet, or that they had ‘shifted’ to Ghim Moh (where their second outlet is). I haven’t really walked past the Moh Guan Terrace outlet since that visit, so I can’t confirm if it’s true that they have left the TB area. Sigh. I had hoped that they would still be around because I thought it was a pretty decent cafe that I wouldn’t mind revisiting to try other stuff, if not the sourdough again!

Lunch at Drury Lane

It has been a few times since I’ve been to Drury Lane along Tanjong Pagar Road, and so far I have not repeated anything on its food menu. I think I have tried the banana cake/loaf with espresso butter that I really liked and found interesting (at least the espresso butter was something different!), some sandwich that I enjoyed, a yogurt with fruits cup that I found to be wanting in filling me up (but that is just me, maybe) and on this latest trip, I decided to order something from the Mains menu, because my friend had some deal that gave 1-for-1 on Mains, sandwiches not included unfortunately.

This was our order.
The ondeh-ondeh cake, which has a really distinctive taste of the Malay kueh, even though I just took a small bite of it. I wouldn’t say I am a big fan of ondeh-ondeh in general but I do enjoy these kuehs from time to time. Looking at it, it actually makes me think that it could be gula melaka or some other variant of kueh (something).
My friend’s order, which was Salted Eggs Benedict that was served with prawns on soft, steamed mantou buns. These look quite awesome, other than the fact that I prefer bread to be harder for better chewiness and bite, and salted eggs are not my kind of thing. I know of one friend who really hates eggs benedict because she doesn’t like the Hollandaise sauce; not sure if she likes salted eggs though, because then this probably doesn’t have Hollandaise?And my order was Rosti with Truffled Mayo and Herbed Sunny Eggs, with avocado and mushrooms. From the mains menu, this was about the only thing that I would consider ordering, since I didn’t want the various types of eggs benedict, or pastas/risottos. The rosti was frankly, a little too well-done that it’s kind of burnt. I didn’t so much as dig the truffled mayo too, which I also do not know if there was much truffle taste in it. Overall, it was ok though, because of the mushrooms, avocado and egg!
The next time I visit, I would probably choose to just have the sweets (banana bread or pay-as-you-wish muffins) or the sandwiches!

Christmas Eve.

Spent Christmas eve and part of Christmas day in Hong Kong. I shall just let the pictures do the talking, most of it anyway, because I am lazy to write. 🙂

Met the cousin early for local breakfast near his apartment. This is the Hong Kong milk tea, which I find is so much nicer than what we have locally, i.e. teh-c.

The standard breakfast fare, to me at least – soupy instant noodles topped with some ingredients like pork / chicken chop, sausages, eggs, or the likes. Or maybe everything! Order a noodle and add-on the other stuff you fancy, sunny-side up, sausages…
Yummy.
Problem with Hong Kong’s local cafes is that they don’t usually do bread the way I like it. Mostly, when I order a sandwich or toast, it is just 2 slices of plain white bread that is of the soft variety, totally not how I like my bread to be. Even when this is toasted, at an additional charge (!), it still doesn’t cut anywhere close. The smooth, creamy scrambled eggs help to make it a bit better though, but then the processed meat in the form of ham probably isn’t too great an idea.
After we had the milk tea and the breakfast, we still went for the next round of caffeine at a hole-in-the-wall cafe near Jaffe Street.  After parting with my cousin, I went to meet my friend and we decided to check out this soft-serve that was highly-recommended by the cousin. I really love this, because the matcha flavour was very distinctive and strong! And best of all is that it doesn’t feel like it’s too sweet. They have a few outlets, but we went to the one at Fashion Walk. There’s one in the basement food hall of SOGO at Causeway Bay too and if I’m not wrong, near City Super in Harbour City in TST.
Went to meet another friend thereafter, who halted her gym-time to accompany me for the Christmas eve afternoon. We popped into a random cafe where she decided to have lunch, and I ordered a salad which was a total disappointment. Where’s the ‘salad’? This looks more like dessert than salad.  It’s actually a few slices of apple cooked in some sauce I presume, topped with egg mayo and a sprinkling of some powder (don’t ask me what because I forgot), plus 2 sticks of buttered toast, very lightly-toasted might I add. I was then busy scraping away the egg yolk and mayo obviously, and left it in a mess.
After the decidedly-unsatisfying meal (for me at least), we proceeded to Lee Gardens’ Starbucks, which was also very crowded despite that the mall was almost devoid of other customers. Either everyone is out and about in their last minute rush for Christmas gifts, or this mall is just too high-classed to see many patrons. We dropped by the supermarket at Hysan Place first though, to get ourselves a pot of yogurt each to go with our coffee (my third caffeine for the day). Love the variety that is available overseas but again, I’d think this is from the vantage point of being a foreigner and seeing things with a fresh pair of eyes.  Last year, when I met my friend in Hong Kong, we ordered the Christmas orange cranberry loaf cake/bread and since they have it this year again, we ordered it again! We enjoyed this because it’s more bread than cake, meaning it’s a bit drier and crumblier,and not so oily to boot. Wished they had this on our local menu too but so far, it has only made an appearance in 2014.
Headed back for a short run at the gym thereafter, before heading out for Christmas eve dinner. We settled in at an Italian eatery in SOHO, which somehow felt like we were obligated to dine at, because the host-cum-owner was rather pushy and we felt bad walking away after reading the menu. It was probably a wrong choice, because we ended up not ordering the huge Christmas meal that came with 6 courses per person (at quite a reasonable price actually). We didn’t think we could have finished all that food so we opted for a-la-carte, which to them meant ‘budget menu’, and we were being treated as ‘budget customers’. They changed the table setting, removing the napkin and replacing it with a paper serviette!? It wasn’t even like the eatery was some fine-dining place because each table was within an elbow’s width away, even if you are paying for the so-called Christmas set menu. Bleah. What a big downer.

The food was pretty decent though, to be fair to them. It’s just that service sucks, or rather it’s dependent on how much you pay for your food.
  After dinner, we took a short walk to PMQ, where most shops were already packing up. But they had pretty interesting Christmas decor, including a holographic Christmas tree instead of a real physical tree.
  And finished off the evening with dessert near our hotel, sweet soup with lotus seeds! 🙂

Christmas in Hong Kong

It isn’t the first time I’m taking a vacation in Hong Kong during the Christmas season, or for that matter, somewhere overseas. But maybe it is the simple knowledge of being on holiday that somehow injects a stronger Christmas vibe within me. At least I kind of felt the Christmas festivities more when I was in Hong Kong, which could be due partly to the fact that it was a temporary reprieve for me from the hustle of the renovation works.

Was it last year when I  visited Hong Kong, in early December, that I also saw similar Christmas decorations in SoHo?This year, Star Wars fever has struck everywhere, from Changi Airport replete with figurines and what-not, and also at Times Square in Causeway Bay, which held an exhibition of sorts of these pretty much life-sized mascots!
The Storm Troopers, up close.  The main reason why we were at Causeway Bay that very first day we landed in Hong Kong, was of course to have dinner! I brought my friend to the Matchbox Cafe, also known as Xi Xi. Last year, my friend brought me here and I so loved what I had that I had to return. Unfortunately, they again had run out of the char siew that I liked. It’s weird, I know, to go to a ‘cha-chan-teng’ for char siew, but cooked together with the CQYD noodles, it makes for really amazing comfort food.

However, even without the char siew, we went ahead to order. Their scrambled eggs and toast smeared with butter are also great, because the eggs are so creamy and flavourful and the toast reminded me somewhat of brioche. My friend had the lemon cola which she said was good, and for the trip, she commented that was the best lemon cola she had!
Closer look at the smooth scrambled eggs that also had strips of ham tossed into the mix. Just thinking of it makes me salivate. Haha.  And this was the bowl of noodles that I ordered! CQYD instant noodles with egg (yes, more eggs!) and a stalk of chye sim. I cannot remember if there were other stuff inside, but it was a serious overdose of eggs for me that night! Check out the super retro pair of small scissors that came with my order. Presumably, it’s for cutting the pack of sesame oil that gives CQYD noodles that familiar and addictive flavour. But it could also be for cutting the noodles so that they are more manageable? I don’t suppose it would be the latter, this being Hong Kong and most people should be quite adept with chop sticks!

Pies & Coffee, Robertson Walk

Did a staycation over the weekend at the Swissotel Merchant Court, for a change, since the last few times we went to Swissotel the Stamford as well as Fairmont. I think I was grousing a little too much, so sorry about it. These days, I seem to be feeling easily irritable and annoyed; maybe not just “these days” but it has been like this for a while and it can get really tough keeping a lot of such emotions in check.

Nevertheless, moving on along… We didn’t go to the Ellenborough Market Cafe, which is what Merchant Court Hotel is well-known for. I can’t remember what it is about the cafe that draws the crowds, my friend said they have a pretty good Peranakan buffet spread for high-tea, but even at dinner times, they are rather full.

On this particular staycation, we hit the right notes most of the times with the food choices we picked. One of them was the last, which happened to be Sunday brunch. I was actually rather keen on having a buffet breakfast at the hotel especially since I am an early riser and would have liked to have breakfast early before the crowds start thronging the place but since it’s Sunday, it is supposed to be a sleep-in day. So we made it out for lunch on this warm and very sunny late morning, to Robertson Walk nearby. It is about a kilometre walk away from Merchant Court, very manageable but probably not so for people who can’t take the heat and humidity of walking under the sun.

Pies & Coffee was where we were headed for, and was the last thing I remembered talking about before I dozed off the night before. They have expanded since the first time I came across this place at Rochester area, and also I almost popped in at the outlet located at Centrepoint recently but eventually I gave it a pass, for something else.

My friend ordered the Sun Riser, which is a pair of pie bases, or probably they look more like tart bases as compared to pie bases that I would expect to be more flaky. These contained an egg each with a runny yolk, and beneath that, there are other ingredients like ham and sausages I think. I thought the presentation was really cute, and my first impression was that it’s a bear-face. Until I realise it’s all four corners that are nipped and not just two. Haha. My friend finished them in a jiffy, which would probably suggest its yumminess.
The Sun Riser, if ordered as part of the breakfast set, comes with either a glass of cloudy apple or orange juice, and topping up a dollar gets you an additional cup of coffee or tea.  I opted for safer choices, i.e. pies, since this is what the place is known for, by its name I thought and because the other breakfast items didn’t particularly appeal to me since I am not a big fan of scrambled eggs or sausages, etc. Between the Curry Chicken Charcoal Pie and the pie of the month, i.e. the Minced Chicken Basil Pie, I chose the latter, thinking of how they would take on the popular Thai dish, basil chicken. All savoury pies are served with a portion of salad and mashed potatoes.  The pie is fairly substantial, for me at least, but it’s not overwhelmingly huge that would leave you totally stuffed. I liked the minced chicken which did resemble Thai Chicken Basil but it could have been better with a more distinctive basil flavour as I didn’t really notice the basil notes in the taste. What I liked though is that the pie skin was not thick, so it’s really more about the filling than the crust and base, which also wasn’t too dry/flaky or oily. The mashed potato was also quite nicely-done, with palpable potato chunks that my friend commented suggested it’s made from real potatoes instead of powdered mash. So it’s quality food that we are paying for, at S$11.20 per pie with the sides.  Along with the pie, a long black goes well to complement the taste, and it’s a good strong cup of brew that is served with a small piece of biscotti.

There are about 10 or more different flavours of pies available, and in addition there is a breakfast menu to choose from. On top of that, there is a full display case of cakes, muffins and scones that had us totally spoilt for choice. I already know that I would be heading back again, and in the next visit, I would order something sweet instead, because the loaf cakes are just screaming at my sweet tooth.

YY Cafe (Kopitiam), Singapore

Besides all the indie cafes that have sprouted out island-wide over the last few years, some or rather more, in the far-flung reaches of our tiny little red dot, there are also those traditional gems that we should never forget. These are the old-style coffee shops, or kopitiam, as they are called in Hokkien. I have heard of some of these but have not visited them because most of these aren’t located in town, and as far as locations of cafes are concerned, I am too pampered to always be revolving around those in town. It isn’t that the ones in town aren’t good but they tend to lack a little of that character, or maybe the very fact that they are in town means they have to adhere to some kind of unspoken rule, in terms of decor and the likes. The more interesting ones that have always been blogged about are generally in the suburban areas.

But there are exceptions once in a while, one of which is YY Kafei dian (the hanyu pinyin of coffee shop in Chinese, aka kopitiam), located at 37 Beach Road, just a stone’s throw away from Raffles Hotel. Even if this is not considered the heart of town like Orchard Road, it is not very likely you will find something like this in the glitzy upmarket parts of town. It is one of those traditional shops that has a main drinks stall much like how many coffee shops are these days, with a few or several other stalls selling a variety of foods. This one boasts just a couple I think, besides the coffee stall that sells food, there is a stall that sells chicken rice (or perhaps it’s the chicken/roast meat stall) and another or perhaps the same, that sells zi-char.

To get to the point of this post, I’ll let some of the pictures do the talking.20140622-195326-71606823.jpg

Coffee and tea in the morning is just not complete with soft-boiled eggs. This was how Ya Kun came about too I suppose? And YY’s take on the kaya bun really is an eye-opener for me, who is used to the typical thinly-sliced and well-toasted Yakun kaya toast. 20140622-195326-71606964.jpg

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The good thing about it is that there isn’t a slab of butter in between the 2 slices, like what I usually see in Yakun toast, or even those from Killiney. But this is just kaya bun and not kaya butter so I guess it also explains the absence of that butter slab. Anyway the coconut taste of the kaya is pretty palpable, in a nice way, although maybe non-lovers of coconut might want to take note of it.

And we also ordered some extras. A cupcake and another kueh, that we feel should contain coconut (besides the obvious sesame) and ginger or some other citrus stuff. It has a sticky, gooey kind of texture, a little like the mua-chee covered with the mixture of coconut and etc., then fried. I love the buttery taste of the cupcake, and because it’s so tiny that it can easily fit into one mouthful or two, it goes perfectly well as a little snack.  20140622-195326-71606915.jpg

We were there at about 10am on a Sunday morning, fortunate because it was not too crowded so we had the luxury of choosing our seats within the warm interior of the coffee shop. Just a short while later, as we were busy enjoying our breakfast, we noticed that the place had began to fill up and some patrons even had to stand around to wait for others to leave. Perhaps due to its fame (try googling it and you will find many reviews of it online) or its location, the patronage ranged from older folks who probably visit this place on a pretty regular basis, and even younger working adults as well as camera-toting tourists.

Oh, and for all this, we paid S$5.90. This is the reason why they are not in Orchard Road. It just wouldn’t have been economically-sustainable for a coffee shop of its size and price range. Value-for-money index is definitely high here!