Admire the Avant Garde: Neo-Japanese Cuisine at Ami Ami!

In the basement of Great World City, Ami Ami, a restaurant serving avant garde Japanese cuisine, can be found among a cluster of other Japanese food establishments. Ami Ami dares to reconstruct traditional Japanese dishes, without detracting too much from their best flavours. From their menu, we were offered four new dishes that Ami Ami hoped would excite our taste buds.

The Mixed Sashimi Carpaccio ($16.80++) was served on a plate with a deep central recess and wide fringe so that the carpaccio could nestle in the centre while crisp bread, sliced tomato, and dollops of truffle oil and wasabi could be laid along the edges. Together, they presented an immaculately arranged plate, which would turn out to be de rigueur for the rest of the dishes we would eat today. We were instructed to bring the tomatoes and other vegetable leaves to the centre of the plate for mixing with the carpaccio, which consisted of a multi-colour medley: diced sashimi of pink salmon, red tuna, and white yellowtail, orange uni, white yams, tiny green spheres of prawn roe, and green cubes avocado.

Mixed Sashimi Carpaccio ($16.80++)

We topped the toasted, lightly buttered bread with the salad. The flavour of the sea burst forth from the roe, uni, and sashimi, as the avocado provided soft textures and the bread, the hard, noisy crunch. While the carpaccio did benefit from a bit of detected sesame oil in the seasoning, the strong flavour of truffle oil was a bit disruptive to the harmonies of the other elements, and I could have done without it. Nonetheless, this is a great cold starter.

Unlike other maki sushi rolls which traditionally use seaweed, for the Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll ($9.80++), Ami Ami have opted for a razor-thin sheet of carrot to hold the ingredients together. Inside the sushi’s core is a tubular chunk of prawn, surrounded by sticky Japanese rice. The rolls are topped with diced strawberry, kiwi, and the distinct green prawn roe once again. Two sauces — mango sauce and a sweet and salty dark sauce — are drizzled, not too liberally, in artful zigzag patterns.

Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll ($9.80++, 4pcs)

The carrot skin does not distract — if anything, it is plainer than seaweed. While this loses the potential light umami of seaweed, it instead gracefully allows the softer flavours of fruit and prawn to come through. Together with the mango sauce, which my photographer deemed refreshing, the flavours of the dish reminded me of the yummy mango prawn salad you get at Chinese restaurants.

In the Zuwaigani Shell Sushi ($9.80++), shredded snow crab meat was topped with green prawn roe in a crab head. Underneath the meat lay sliced tomatoes, diced mangoes, cucumbers, and tamago egg cubes. While artfully created, this was a frustrating dish to eat. Not because of the flavours, which were expectedly good after the first two dishes, but the difficulty of eating it with chopsticks. Because of the atomised nature of the various elements in the crab head, picking up more than tiny pinches of rice and crab meat shreds with our chopsticks was impossible. It’s not an easy dish to share; it’s best consumed by one, who can pick up the entire head, and shovel the food into his mouth like the crab head is a rice bowl.

Zuwaigani Shell Sushi ($9.80++)

The next dish was a Sushi Pizza ($17.80++) that defied both traditions of Japanese and Neapolitan cuisine. Squares of paper-thin spring roll skin were layered with rice, seaweed, salmon & yellowtail sashimi, avocado, mango, and roe. It is finally covered with a blend of gouda and mozzarella cheese. The entire assembly is that oven-baked until the insides are cooked, the base is crisp, and the cheese has melted and browned a bit. Along the side are two sauces – a Japanese tonkatsu-based sauce and a spicy sauce that you can dip your pizza in.

Sushi Pizza ($17.80++)

It turned out to be delicious, and didn’t fall apart when picked up with chopsticks. The cheese could have been slightly less cooked if they wanted it to remain stringy, but overall it was a dish that satisfied me, even if it might offend some Italian and Japanese gastronomes.

Like the Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll, the Ebi Tempura Cheese Pie Roll ($15.80++) also has a core of prawn and rice. However, the wrap of choice is instead a crisp pie crust with cheddar cheese. It is served along the edges of the plate with a teriyaki and cream dipping sauce in the centre. Adding the cream to teriyaki sauce made it lighter and smoother. Eating the whole thing felt like a more Japanese version of char siew so. While this dish dispenses with delicateness, its bold salty and umami flavours make this a robust dish.

Ebi Tempura Cheese Pie Roll ($15.80++, 8pcs)

Ami Ami dances on the edge of propriety, but manage to hold onto the fundamental tastes of Japanese food. For anyone who wants something deviating from the usual Japanese fare, Ami Ami definitely have a few intriguing dishes to offer.

Thank you Ami Ami for the invitation.

Ami Ami
#B1-03/04

Great World City
(within Shokutsu Ten Japanese Food Street)
Singapore 237994

Contact: 6835 9071

Opens from:

11.30am to 3pm (last order 2.30pm)
5.30pm to 10pm (last order 9.30pm)

Website

A Lunar New Year Away From The Bustle, Only At Tamarind Hill!

With Chinese New Year nearly upon us, many restaurants will be offering special Lunar New Year menus featuring seasonal dishes usually eaten at this time of the year. One of these restaurants will be Tamarind Hill, owned by the luxury hospitality chain Samadhi Retreats. To get to it, you’ll have to drive (or take a long walk) deep inside Labrador Nature Reserve, where the forest will part to uncover a bungalow that looks like it was built in the colonial era for the residence of a British official. That’s not far off from the mark; it started as Labrador Villa, the residence of George John Mansfield, a British shipping magnate. But in 2018, it’s now a fine dining restaurant specialising in Thai and Shan cuisine.

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Gourmet Pasta In a Kopitiam? Pasta Boutique, A Hidden Gem

A little gem called the Pasta Boutique, now in Bedok!

It took a while for me and my friends to find the PASTA Boutique in Bedok. When we got off our Uber, we found ourselves facing three food centres next to each other. We finally found it tucked in a corner next to the entrance of a washroom: a brightly lit stall with two men in dark blue T-shirts, bent over their counters, frying food on a sizzling pan and plating it on wooden serving boards.

The two men are Mark and Eddie, proprietors of The PASTA Boutique. Mark joined the F&B industry in 2013 to get some working experience in the trade before embarking on his dream: starting his own F&B establishment. While working at the Wharf Oyster Bar and Seafood, he met his future business partner, Eddie, whom he convinced to join him in his new venture. Eddie does most of the cooking, Mark told me, although he is learning as well.

Striking out on one’s own in F&B is always a gamble, and I was intrigued that these two men would decide to go from working in restaurants to running a food stall in a coffeeshop. However, humble beginnings for western food establishments is nothing new in the Singapore food scene: Aston’s current pantheon of restaurants all began when Aston Soon started his East Coast coffeeshop stall to offer quality western food to the masses at an affordable price. The PASTA Boutique’s mission is an almost word-for-word echo: in Mark’s words, to bring better quality pasta to the neighbourhood at kopitiam prices.

I approached Mark at his stall, introducing myself. He showed me a menu with about fifteen choices over three pages. Stunned by the wide selection, I just told him to give us the dishes that best represented his stall. He warned me that we might have to wait a fair bit before getting our food, since it was the busy dinnertime period. He handed me a number on a stand, and I went back to the table where my friends were at. I cracked open a cold one with the boys to pass the time. A beer maid attempted to sell us another bottle of our lager despite our continual refutations. I tried my best not to inhale as cigarette smoke wafted over from the smoking section.

Mark walked past us, carrying pasta and a dish of chicken chop to a neighbouring table with three elderly Chinese people. Once they were served, they started to dig in enthusiastically. They looked like they lived in the area, and had simply come down for a dinner at the local kopitiam. When Mark and Eddie started their stall, business wasn’t so good as the older heartland folk from the Bedok neighbourhood usually opted for something else other than Western food. Instead, the PASTA Boutique got most of their traffic from millennial gastronomes who intentionally travelled to Bedok to try it. Word-of-mouth spread and more customers came for their food. Eventually, the neighbourhood folk warmed up to their cuisine too.

Fifteen minutes after we first arrived, Mark finally came to our table bearing food. That wait had been shorter than expected. And just like that, we had a panoply of dishes to sample: Chicken Chop with Herbs and Spices ($8.80), Seabass with Salsa Verde ($12.80), Creamy Bacon and Mushroom Pasta ($9.50), and Chili Crab pasta ($10.50). Linguine was used in our pastas, but you can choose spaghetti or fettuccine if you prefer.

The Meats: Deliciously Crispy, with Tasty Sides

I bit into the grilled chicken, while my friends tried the pasta first. The charred, crispy skin was a real delight, and the meat remembered to be juicy. There was also savoury brown gravy in a little bowl. I wasn’t sure if it was for the mashed potato or the chicken, so I tried it with both. It turned out to be a fantastic accompaniment with either.

The seabass was covered with a browned, crispy skin that had been smothered with a green layer of herb pesto. In my friend’s words, the fish was ‘mint and refreshing’. The white flesh was still soft, but had acquired a nice smoky taste from the panfrying.

Both the non-pasta dishes – the seabass with spicy salsa verde and the grilled chicken with herbs and spices – came with sides of mashed potato and ratatouille (which looked like sautéed vegetables). Notably, PASTA Boutique’s mashed potatoes were clearly homemade and prepared indulgently: thickly solid and buttery, with an uneven heterogeneity from the use of a handheld masher. The vegetables in the ratatouille had also been sautéed long enough to release the natural sweetness found in tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers. I devoured them without hesitation.

The Pastas: Reliable and Well-Prepared

We had been promised good pasta, and on that, the PASTA Boutique delivered. Before I move on to discuss the sauces, I need to emphasize that their pasta noodles for both dishes were cooked to exactly the right texture; al dente, as the Italians say. Very few kopitiam Western food stalls know how to make pasta properly, and on this regard, the PASTA Boutique already stands out.

PASTA Boutique’s Creamy Bacon & Mushroom pasta does not disappoint. The noodles had been run through the sauce such that each strand was adequately coated, leaving no oily residue at the bottom of the plate – often a sign of badly made cream sauce. The flavour of the sauce was also not overwhelming; lemak, but not gelat. Succulent brown mushrooms and bacon round up the ensemble soundly.

When the chilli crab pasta first arrived, I caught a strong whiff of what I judged as a tom yam fragrance. This is perhaps not ideal, since chilli crab isn’t supposed to taste of tom yam. But after the first bite, it became clearer that what I thought was tom yam came from the thinly sliced strips of lime leaf garnish. While I feel this addition works, it’s definitely not as similar to the tomato-ey rich flavours of traditional chilli crab dishes. However, I appreciated the generous portion of real, shredded crab meat that found its way into every mouthful. Considering the economical price of this dish, it was an impressive dedication to standard and quality.

Is this the future for Kopitiam Western Food?

I left the kopitiam, particularly impressed with the PASTA Boutique’s dishes and the prices they have managed to keep it at. They are crafted well and presented at a level beyond what one would often expect from kopitiam food, standing out in contrast to other Western food stalls at a similar price range. The promise for the PASTA Boutique are dishes with both heart and soul. Is this possibly the beginning of a renaissance for kopitiam Western food? Time will tell. In the meantime, if I hanker after a good and cheap pasta, I know exactly where to go.

Thank you The Pasta Boutique for the invitation.

The PASTA Boutique
New Century Food House Coffeeshop
Blk 539 Bedok North Street 3
#01-619

Contact: 9859 9850
Facebook

Opens Daily
11.30am to 3pm
5.30pm to 9.30pm

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Taste a new spin on Indian cuisine at Flying Monkey Restaurant and Bar!

Sunlight was waning as I wandered along Bussorah street, having some trouble finding this week’s restaurant visit. As the day turned to evening, Kampong Glam was waking up; people begain filling up the Turkish, Lebanese, and other Middle Eastern restaurants. I myself was looking for the Flying Monkey, a recently opened restaurant and bar serving pan-Indian cuisine and spice-inspired cocktails. I finally discovered it under an awning, as there was no evident signage on the façade of the building. Only when coming closer did I see its neon name blazing on the back wall of the restaurant.

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