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.

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Lunch at The Plain, Craig Rd

It was just my second visit to the Plain, since my first trip several years ago, before I moved to this area for work. In fact, it is strange that with my office so nearby, I haven’t actually thought of re-visiting, maybe because in my mind, I wanted to try out other cafes in the neighbourhood that I have yet to check out… or there was just a period of time where I considered it extravagant to lunch at cafes on a regular basis. Well, I still subscribe to that school of thought somewhat, but then another school of thought has entered the picture, that life is fairly short and we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, scrimping and saving… to what end, I’d think. Sure, saving is important, whether it is for the proverbial rainy day, or towards building a nest egg for retirement, however much that kind of money will contribute to.

So, recently I have given myself more liberty where lunch options are concerned. It is supposed to be healthier too to step out of the office during lunch, instead of cooping myself up with packed lunches.

On one such lunches, at the Plain, I ordered a serving of plain toast (sourdough) with earl grey and fig jam (this piqued my interest), and a cup of bircher muesli.Instead of a slice, perhaps they had an extra tiny slice that they decided to give it to me anyhow, I got 1.5 slices. I really love the bread! In itself, sourdough is a type of bread that I enjoy and prefer over white (and usually soft and limp) bread, but the fact that this bread is very well-toasted made it all the better! I wonder if I can re-create the same effect using the oven, since I do not have an oven toaster at home which would make it so much easier and convenient to toast something (I blame it on the gross lack of space in the kitchen, no counter-top space to spare at all). But then it would seem like an overkill to switch on the oven just to toast a couple slices of bread, don’t you think? The earl grey and fig preserve didn’t really stand out as having much of the earl grey flavour. I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t focusing, or maybe the sweetness of the fig somehow overwhelmed any inkling of tea flavour?

The bircher muesli was made up of organic oats soaked with apple juice, sliced apples, flaked almonds and topped with honey-infused yogurt. The small serving that I ordered, with the 1.5 slices of toast, was just nice to fill me up at lunch without causing me to feel too bloated, or again as usual the stomach is not communicating to the brain what it’s feeling. Such simple breakfast food makes for an enjoyable lunch, even if it was without coffee.

Interestingly, as I was Googling for the menu online so that I could provide a better description of the stuff I ordered, as well as to confirm the names, I saw that in the menu that was dated 2011, the price of Plain Toasts was S$3.50 for a slice, which as of 2014’s menu, had been revised to S$4.00 for the same. Ok, that is pretty reasonable even though it’s a 15% inflation over 3 years. The same quantum of increase was also noted for the small-sized bircher muesli, from S$5.50 to S$6 (10%). So it would seem that it has been around for a pretty long time, at least 5 years in the running! I hope they would stick around for some time more, and perhaps one of these days I will return again for their simple yet amazing toast!

Revisiting Flock Café, Moh Guan Terrace

I thought I read somewhere, maybe on Facebook, that Flock at Moh Guan Terrace was closing. That was after my first visit, and I had actually wrote an email to the address listed on their website but I didn’t receive any response. Yesterday, since I was on leave and was free in the early evening, I decided to go for a coffee break, even though I felt that I already had consumed sufficient food to last me to dinner. So anyhow, it has been a while since I took a walk around the “neighbourhood”, so despite that it was humid balmy day, I took the risk anyhow. There are always back-up options in the vicinity anyway, if Flock had really closed, but I was quite happy when I rounded the corner of the block where they are located, to see that they are still in business. Woohoo!

If my stomach had allowed, I would have liked to order their scrambled eggs with sourdough, something I had on the first visit that I enjoyed thoroughly. They had other all-day breakfast options too, and various other food options; in fact, I think they have quite an extensive menu considering that typically these cafes don’t offer much in terms of food. But I resisted. And ordered for myself a muffin and coffee. There were some cakes available, both the moist and creamy-looking type as well as the simpler tea-cake kind. But somehow they didn’t really appeal to me yesterday. The only muffin available was something called “Ondeh Ondeh muffin”; oh my, that sounds interesting enough! So here goes (and any diet or wellness-eating plans).

Initially, I didn’t know what to expect of the muffin because I was imagining that it would perhaps have a soft, molten core that contains some gula melaka syrup that would ooze out when I cut into the muffin. But instead, my fork met with some resistance when I attempted to pierce the top of the muffin. It’s pretty firm and hard, even though I think they did warm it up a little (this I couldn’t be sure). The top of the muffin was just how I liked my muffins to be, firm and crunchy and best of all, not too crumbly. It didn’t just fall apart into bits despite that it’s a little tough to cut into.
Taste-wise, it did have quite a distinct flavour of pandan or coconut, whichever I can’t really tell apart because to me, they are pretty similar. There wasn’t anything oozing out, but instead the ondeh ondeh flavour is just infused into the whole muffin itself. Biting into it, you won’t mistakenly think that you are eating an ondeh ondeh because the texture is totally different, but it’s just the similarity of the taste and flavour, except that in this case, it probably isn’t as strong as when you are eating the real thing, covered with shredded coconut shavings and of course, the colour is entirely different.

I spent a nice, quiet hour in the late afternoon there, and it being a weekday, it’s pretty quiet even though there were a few sets of other patrons there, mainly just solo customers or in twos. It contrasted with the Saturday when I was first there, where we had trouble finding seats and customers were mainly in twos or larger groups, with a much more elevated noise level. It’s a nice time to have, just indulging in some sinful goodness and aromatic coffee, with a good read too. Ok, I won’t exactly call it a good read since it’s just the newspapers that I was reading, but yesterday’s free daily contained many articles aside from news stories, it being the anniversary of the passing of our founding father.There have been many opinions about him before, whether they are right or wrong, fair or not. But I think arising from his death last year and the various TV programmes that talked about his life and work, many people have began to see him in a different light and better appreciate what was being done by him, albeit in an authoritarian style and with an iron-clad manner. That worked for the generation then, where the country was mostly directionless and in need of a strong leadership voice. For the current generation that is more well-educated that has also spawned lots of opinions (some informed, others just plainly emotional and irrational), a different kind of leadership style is needed, which I think the current people are striving to achieve through continuous change and improvements.

Enough said about that, politics are never an easy thing to discuss and that’s not the main point of this post. As I read some of the articles, not without distraction though because I just cannot seem to be able to focus on reading with good concentration… this quote kind of spoke out to me:
Recalled an undergrad, “create the life we want to live, and make the most of what we’ve been blessed with”. It is not something I haven’t heard of before, but really, it’s an apt reminder that I should bear in mind – to always be thankful for what we get in life, and for what we have, make the best of it. Comparisons are inevitable because we don’t live in a vacuum, but letting comparisons get the better of us do not serve us any purpose, especially if they only lead to us envying others and lamenting.

Selfish Gene Café, Craig Rd

Recently, I have had more opportunities to check out cafes around the office because I have been heading out for lunch more often (yay…). Other than Drury Lane, which is a favourite because of their (imo) awesome-mosome sandwiches, there are still many others around that are good too that I have not tried out or revisited.

One of those that I had gone to, several years ago, was Selfish Gene Cafe, located along Craig Road. I had only been there once, and it’s great that they are still around, what with the fickle cafe scene in Singapore that has seen many new cafes opening on a weekly basis, but at the same time we also see a dearth of cafes on an equally regular basis perhaps. The last time I went to Selfish Gene, I think I had a salad, if I remembered correctly. This time since we were in a slighter larger group, or should I say trio, we had more options. But then again, I still have not tried their coffee, because I try to limit my caffeine to one per day and I already had my regular kopi-o that day.

So first up, dessert! Weird but that’s what females are more interested in, the sweets, and I recalled reading about their banana cake, which is supposed to be quite a crowd favourite and popular item. And this is it! A warm banana cake with real banana slices, drizzled with a little peanut butter, yummy…
There isn’t any further pictures of the cake as we just dove into it when it was served after the mains, but this cake isn’t too dense or light, and it did have a rather distinctive banana taste, whether it is due to the bananas used or simply some essence that was put into the batter. Nevertheless, it receives a thumbs-up from me, especially since I’m a fan of banana cakes/breads.

We ordered two mains to try. The first was salmon that was served on a small bed of mash and veggies. From the picture you can see that there is a little alfafa sprouts, and probably the rest a mixture of … cabbage, tomatoes and… ? It’s not a huge portion, especially when three of us were sharing it but the salmon was nicely-done, of course much better than my own maiden attempt haha.The other main we ordered was a breakfast/brunch item, still available at that time. This was kind of like the full works kind of breakfast platter, that came with a slice of sourdough cut into half, a sausage, sauteed mushrooms, bacon, hash brown, a generous portion of creamy smooth scrambled eggs and some greens. I can imagine that this would be too much for a person, especially if I were to think that the person is me, since there are too many elements on this plate that I do not even eat! But it balanced out the salmon main well, and at the end of the meal, with 2 mains and a dessert shared among three of us, my 2 colleagues actually commented that they were really full. But as for me… as usual, I don’t know how the feeling of full is like maybe? Somehow, it seems like my brain and stomach aren’t linked very well, I seldom know when I feel full, and usually I don’t feel it, unless I drink a lot of water at meal-times, which would make me feel bloated and not so much of full. I don’t know, maybe I am just not consciously thinking if I am full. 

Anyway, Selfish Gene is a great cafe to chill out at, and I think they do private functions as well. But their opening hours are little unfriendly. Of course, with me working around the area, I could definitely make it for lunch, but then they are usually open from 10am to 5pm, sometimes closing earlier at 3pm on certain days. That’s like even shorter than office working hours! But I guess it’s all about work-life balance for the owner and his staff and as long as the operating hours are sufficient to keep them afloat, it’s all good!

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!

A love affair with peanut butter

I think I have always liked peanut butter. But recently, I seem to be giving in to my craving more to indulge in it. It doesn’t help that I discovered, some years ago, that the local cafes (starting with Ya Kun, and subsequently now, more and more of these local outfits) are having peanut butter as a regular item on their menu! 🙂

I love Ya Kun’s toast, because it is crispy and crunchy, as compared to the generally much softer and not-at-all crispy/crunchy “toast” from Killiney or some other cafes. When they had a version that had peanut butter as the spread, that was like a heaven-sent. I don’t know what else they spread on it, but to be precise, I always tell them I want the “peanut butter toast, without butter”. I know it sounds a bit silly, since peanut butter is a term in itself, but I infer that butter is the basic spread on every single type of toast, followed by whatever else they spread, so I do not want the butter, but only want the peanut spread. It goes fabulously with a coffee or tea, especially now that I have discovered the goodness of coffee sans milk, a.k.a. kopi-o (siew dai). I have tried it without sugar, and it is drinkable, but doesn’t really taste good, somehow.

Along with the other cafes that I have now discovered offering peanut butter / crunchy peanut toast, Toast Box’s version is one of my latest favourite, the multi-grain peanut thick toast. Pairing a slice of thick, toasted, chewy bread with a generous spread of crunchy peanut butter is absolute nirvana for someone like me who loves bread AND peanut butter. Just check out this awesome deal.As compared to the usual kaya butter toast, I think this would also serve as a slightly healthier choice? Although I doubt that the peanut butter is worth any less calories, because I do taste the saltiness in it, but as I really love peanut butter, I would like to comfort myself that it is a better choice, whether comparing it against the kaya butter, kaya sugar, or whatever other toast, or even against the muffins, cakes or pastries that I would have ordered had I visited Starbucks or Coffee Bean instead.

The picture earlier had a filter, rendering it in a nicer hue of colour. This is another closer look at the toast in plain colour. Still awesome; as I look at it, despite just having had lunch not long ago, I am craving for it. I wonder when, or if I can ever stop craving bread and spreads.
Once, I visited another Toast Box, and they didn’t have the multi-grain thick toast, bleah. The cashier wasn’t particularly friendly too as she responded that they do not have it, and also because I do not really fancy having thick toast in white bread, I decided to just order the “Traditional Toast” with peanut butter. I don’t know if I should qualify it as a bad choice… because their traditional toast is really pathetic; they sliced off the sides of the bread, then cut it into half with some spread in-between, and this is what you get.IMG_4067A serving of peanut butter toast that I get from Ya Kun, Coffee & Toast or Nanyang Old Coffee (is that its name), gives you 4 pieces of bread, because they use the old type of white bread (usually dyed brown) that is longish/rectangular-shaped. This is probably the newer, modern kind of square bread. This obviously fitted nowhere within my huge appetite and left me totally unsatisfied. It also didn’t make things better that the traditional toast wasn’t well-toasted, by my standards, so it didn’t feel crunchy enough.
IMG_4068Not that the thick toast is super well-toasted; in fact, it isn’t as well. But the chewiness of the multi-grain toast alleviated that deficiency, and I’m happy to just chew on the bread with the copious amount of peanut butter literally dripping off the surface of the toast.