High-tea at The Marmalade Pantry, Ion

After hearing several raves about the Afternoon Tea set at the Marmalade Pantry, I finally got to try it one day. All this while I have not really had the chance because afternoon teas tend to be too much for two persons and it’s typically geared towards more sweet than savoury items. Despite that I generally have a sweet tooth, there needs to be a balance, usually.

Priced at S$38 for a set that is supposed to serve 2, it’s really quite value-for-money because as compared to some other places, this works out to be about S$22 per person after applicable taxes.

The afternoon tea offerings are served in a three-tier rack, with the top tier holding the condiments, which includes strawberry preserve, marmalade (of course they can’t not have this) and clotted cream. The middle tier displays the scones, a mixture of mini buttermilk scones and mini cranberry scones, a whopping total of 10 pieces! Of course, these are about half the size or less of a usual scone, but I think there is still too much of it. 10 pieces! Gosh, how can anyone finish that much, which was why I guess most comments I read about this set would be that it probably would serve three better instead.The lowest tier serves an assortment of mini sandwiches, which includes 2 open-faced ones. These are supposedly egg and cress, beef and horseradish and green land shrimp. These finger sandwiches make up the only savoury part of the set, and we both agreed that we would rather have swapped out some of the scones for more of the sandwiches because the bread is really nice! The fillings are great as well but I like the toasted and crusty texture of the bread. Perhaps one of these days I could order the sandwiches there just to have the bread. 🙂A closer look at the overwhelming number of scones. They aren’t too bad, but from what I could recall of them and what I had before, they aren’t the best scones around. The size is great of course, because we all know how dense scones can be and just one normal-sized scone could count for a meal/snack, e.g. breakfast. Another point to note is that the clotted cream also isn’t fabulous. Clotted cream is of course better than whipped cream, anytime, but the clotted cream at Marmalade Pantry still feels a little light and not as decadent as how we would usually want clotted cream to be!
Besides these, the set also comes with a cupcake each of your choice. We picked the Limonata (tart lemon glazed cake) and the Granny’s Apple (spiced apple and cinnamon cake with cream cheese). The latter, with the dollop of apple on top, was a much better option, because the Limonata’s topping somehow just tastes too sweet and artificial, even its base. I would have expected something more zesty but it just felt very sweet overall.
Not too bad an experience, but there are so many other afternoon/high tea sets around to check out to do a repeat, unless it’s really worth it or good, such as that at Fosters! It costs just $11.50 for 2 scones, a slice of tea cake and a finger sandwich. From what I remembered of it, the scones and clotted cream they have are pretty awesome.

Oh and Marmalade Pantry’s set also comes with a pot of Gryphon tea each of your choice. I would have preferred if they offered coffee too, but then it would probably have resulted in me overdosing on coffee, and what’s Afternoon ‘Tea’ without tea?

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.

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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!

Dimbulah, Chijmes

I have seen this cafe around in a couple of places but have never really stepped in. To some extent, it strikes as me very much as a tea kind of place, I don’t know why. It’s not that I can’t or don’t drink tea, but my preference usually veers towards coffee. And maybe I am a creature of habit and can be averse to checking out new places unless I am in the mood. So anyway, I did step into Dimbulah one afternoon, where it was actually nice and peaceful at Chijmes despite it being a weekend. Maybe it was due to the drizzle, or it could be that Chijmes is currently undergoing a revamp or reworks of sorts.

Dimbulah serves coffee and tea, but the coffee selection is actually quite decent, like what you typically get in other cafes. And they hail from Australia if I recall, so I guess my preconceived notion of them wasn’t really right. The selection of food available is also quite decent, from readily-available cake-counter stuff to even all-day breakfasts and more. Besides being a cafe, I think they also transform into a bar in the later part of the day because I thought I do recall seeing alcoholic beverages behind the bar counter, but it jolly well have been another place. Coffee is nice and aromatic, as is the Chai Latte that my friend ordered.

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The scrambled egg toastie that my friend thought should be a good light snack but turned out to be relatively filling. I liked that it was brimming with its contents, the scrambled egg, bacon and cheese, instead of some other places where you see more bread than anything else.

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I just had to order the banana loaf because it was the weekend and I was craving for my baked indulgences. Just check out how generous Dimbulah is with everything. The sandwich above is an example of it, this banana loaf cake is testament!20140618-085856-32336198.jpg

You can see the palpable banana slices in the loaf itself, not just the fibres that we see in the usual banana cakes around. So you can also imagine that with the usual, it’s typically more chiffon/sponge style whereas this is definitely a dense slice. Even for me who tends to digest things really quickly and seldom fill full with just a teeny slice of cake, this kept me bloated for a while. That aside, the taste was also of course good and not too sweet or overwhelming in any area of taste. So yes, maybe the next time I will head to the Dimbulah outlet that’s near my office to check out what else they serve on their menu.

Ya Kun Toastwich

No I am not about to write a review on Ya Kun Toastwich because I have never tried their food before, except for toast, possibly just once. Most other times I have been there only for the drinks.

The first time I came across Ya Kun Toastwich was while out for lunch at NEX, and this store is located in basement 2 of the shopping mall, in a far-flung corner near where one entry/exit point to Serangoon MRT is. It is pretty near to the checkout counters of Cold Storage, and nearby there is also a Burger King, Mr. Bean, Chewy Junior, etc. if anyone is interested to know. At first glance I thought this seemed different from the usual Ya Kun stores I have been to, because the menu looked different, with all the types of cooked food that they serve up, like laksa and mee siam, sandwiches, amongst others. You can see the full menu here, which also isn’t that extensive, but at least you have some other choices available if kaya toast and its various incarnations are not your cup of tea, or coffee. But seriously, Ya Kun’s toast is easily one of the best that I have had. I don’t know about you, but I really like it the way they did it, with the brown bread sliced into half down the middle and kaya plus a slab of butter sandwiched in between, and very well-toasted till crisp. That’s why it has to be eaten fresh because once the crispiness is gone only hardness remains. I have tried toast from other such local cafes like Toast Box and Killiney, but theirs are lightly-toasted at best.

So anyway, I thought this Toastwich was a one-of-a-kind franchise who decided to up the ante and include more stuff on the menu to make it more comprehensive to pull in a wider crowd, and as well the furniture looks different from the usual white table top with square wooden stools. The whole ambience of this outlet feels a little less localised. And like I just found out courtesy of Google, there are actually three such outlets over the island, NEX, Harbourfront and Fusionpolis; it is no wonder that I never really knew of Toastwich’s existence.

Drinks-wise, I can’t really comment since I admit just as much that I am no connoisseur. The drinks aren’t too bad, at least by normal Ya Kun standards to me; some days ago I was at the Ya Kun that in the basement of United Square (next to the roast meat shop) and the drink was quite bad. I ordered a teh c kosong and what I got appeared to be a teh-flavoured c kosong; the colour was so light it already looked wrong from the outset. Even the normal teh my colleagues ordered looked somewhat more like teh c. Perhaps that was a way to save on the tea, but really, I thought evaporated milk was expensive since drinks with “c” are always priced higher (about 20 cents) than the normal drinks, so wouldn’t this increase their cost of sales significantly?

Oh well, it isn’t my business so to speak, but the drink was pretty bland so that was one of the rare times I did not actually finish my drink. Anyway, the Toastwich’s takeaway cups look different too!

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Hock Lam & Yakun, Far East Square

There are times when I would really miss working in the city area because of the vast varieties of food available for lunch, not to mention the choices for coffee, local or foreign. Of course, the crowds at lunchtime are not something that I miss, having to be on an ever-ready standby mode to snare the first available table at the eating places without table service. Still, convenience is key and where I am now, convenience is the last thing on the list.

On some days when we have the luxury to venture a little further, the colleagues will enjoy checking out some good food in town. So it was on this day that we made a visit to Hock Lam beef noodles at Far East Square. They are quite the fan of this stall’s beef noodles I think, because it wasn’t the first time that we went there, but this time we saw that the stall has had a facelift. Before, the cooking area was right at the front of the stall where you queue to place your order and pay, now you get yourself seated and write your orders on a piece of paper before handing it to a wait-staff, then pay on your way out. I think this was meant to elevate the customer’s dining experience, but with the renovation, the stall appeared like it could now sit less customers, and of course I think the prices now would factor this in. I don’t remember how much the noodles used to be, but now they are priced at about S$8 or S$8.50 per bowl for the usual beef noodles? Those were the comments from the colleagues so I believe prices did go up, but apparently, the taste and quality remains.

We were pretty early that day and the stall had only a few customers then; as I wasn’t that hungry yet I just ordered the beef ball soup, which is available as a side order, and cost S$4 for a bowl of soup with 5 beef balls. My colleague, probably trying to go on a diet, dished some of his kway teow to me so I ended up having beef kway teow soup. 20130129-092012.jpg

According to the others, the portion seemed to have shrank a little too because after we finished our early lunch, we decided to hop a few stalls down to Ya Kun, which they have also been wanting to visit since that is the original stall and one of my colleagues swear by the quality of their drinks and toast. Perhaps it being without air-conditioning, the prices were relatively cheaper than the usual Ya Kun stalls island-wide, e.g. a cup of tea with evaporated milk (teh-c) would cost S$1.70 typically, but here it is S$1.50. Being early, we also had the benefit of getting a seat indoors with a fan overhead; it can get really toasty sitting outside even under the shade of the umbrellas, such is the merciless heat which is uniquely Singapore!

So we ordered kaya toast to supplement our lunch! Comments at the table were all with approval for this original Ya Kun stall, because one colleague mentioned this is the best Ya Kun bread, crispier and tastier than all others he has tried, and also the butter is more well-spread over the bread, not just sandwiched as a slab between the slices of bread. 20130129-092133.jpg

Opposite where Far East Square and China Square Central, there is this semi-automated multi-storey parking facility that we were rather amused with. Probably we are just being ignorant, but it was quite interesting to drive the car into a lift, get out and press a combination of numbers, and when the lift doors close, the car will automatically get parked in an available lot within the structure. To retrieve the car, we need to key in the combination we had entered earlier and the machine will get the car from where it has been parked, and when the lift doors open again, we will see the car there! I think there should be more of such parking buildings around so that it saves people time of waiting around the carpark in their cars for a lot, which most times depend on luck whether you are quick enough to get an available lot based on where you were waiting!

C-Jade HK Cafe, Bugis+

One afternoon, the colleagues and I headed to Bugis for lunch, and thought we’d try something different. We would usually just head straight to Ramen Champion in Bugis+ where we could all choose whatever type of ramen we liked, whichever was available anyway. This day, we had wanted to go to this place that sells Taiwanese street food, or something like that, but as we were walking past we saw that the eatery was completely devoid of customers, so instead of giving it the benefit of doubt we chose to walk on, until we reached the end of the level where C-Jade HK Cafe was. C-Jade, I presume, is meant to be some attempt at modernising the Crystal Jade name because I don’t see how abbreviating it this way makes it any easier to read. There are less syllables to read yes, but it really does not make much difference.

The items do look rather nice on the menu, to be honest, and we saw some people having the mini steamboats which looked rather appetising too. But I am typically a boring eater, and when it comes to HK cafes, my usual choice would be noodles, and to be exact, fried/dry instant noodles. It is odd, that I don’t even eat instant noodles at home these days, but I would order instant noodles when I am out. I am not opposed to it, or it is not because I don’t like it but it is just that I don’t normally eat much at home, and if I am actually at home for lunch/dinner, it would be food that my mother has cooked.

I liked the fried instant noodles at the Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe, and also the Indian versions at the various prata stores around, so since they have this on the menu, it was an easy choice for me.

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I was quite disappointed when my food was served, because just by looking at it, I could already see that there is a difference from what I usually have. They have somehow drenched the noodles in an overkill (to me at least) of a gooey sauce, maybe it’s oyster sauce, Hoi Sin sauce, or whatever, I cannot remember now, but it just made the whole plate of noodles soggy, and made eating difficult. The sogginess also affected, in a bad way, how the noodles tasted. The fried egg was done pretty ok, a sunny-side up egg with its yolk still in liquid form, so that was a compensating factor because I don’t like sunny-side ups that have a solidified yolk. Because the sauce was also spread over the luncheon meat, it also made it soggy, and that’s not how I like fried luncheon meat. Diced luncheon meat stir-fried with potatoes in tomato sauce sits well with me even though they are both fried and then fried in sauce, but fried luncheon meat soaked in some gooey sauce is not nice.

Being in a Hong Kong cafe of sorts, I wouldn’t miss out the HK Milk Tea of course. Nothing spectacular but it wasn’t bad. I like the HK version of milk tea because it is not sweet and is generally much stronger than our teh-c (kosong), the closest comparison that I can think of. The one I had here had the tannic taste of tea but it lacked in the fragrance of the milk. So maybe the next time we go to Bugis+ I should stick to having ramen instead, and save HK cafe food for Hong Kong, or Xin Wang that is closer to home.

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