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The proof of the pudding is in the queuing! Most of the eateries listed here have snaking long queues (at least half hour wait, if you are lucky) and all will be put off, except those who live to eat.
You may not publicly read too much about these places because those who already know the place do not want the queue to grow longer.
The queue at Tim Ho Wan is v-e-r-y v-e-r-y l-o-n-g. For a whole year since it opened its first Singapore outlet at Plaza Singapura on 9 April 2013, the queue would snake out of the mall’s exit doors.Die-hard fans wore face masks and stood in line braving the worse haze in Singapore’s history. Because guests are allowed in only when everyone in the party is present, you see several elderly folks in wheelchairs waiting in line.
At the time of writing this, I could get a table at 1:30pm if I queued for 20 minutes. Otherwise, use this place as a valid reason to eat at any time of the day, except during regular brunch, lunch or dinner hours. Only a week ago, new items were added – crystal dumpling with truffle sauce, duo skin prawn wonton soup, cheese roll wrapped with minced chicken and tofu with pork floss, the last addition I like the most for its contrasting texture. Your best bet is to stay with their classics of baked bun with BBQ pork (char siew pao), melt in your mouth pan fried turnip cake, steamed egg cake (lighter than a baked cake and more moist). I’m not into liver but the (rice flour) roll stuffed with pig’s liver is popular.
68 Orchard Road #01- 29A Plaza Singapura Tel: (65) 6251 2000 Nearest MRT Station: Dhoby Ghaut.
2. KOH’S GRILL & SUSHI BAR
Affordable omakase dining at his humble restaurant run by Chef Koh, who used to work in top Japanese restaurants in Singapore. It is located on the same floor as Wisma Atria food court but with its own (limited) tables and seats. Long time patrons order off the menu, giving the chef their budget, naming their favourite must-have fish and entrusting the rest all up to him, pretty much omakase dining style. If available, I would opt for kampachi (amber jack), tai (snapper), toro (tuna belly). My all-time fave iwashi (sardines) is hard to get anywhere in Singapore. Majority of the regulars haunt this place for the Shiok! Maki, which is creamy rich with Shiok is a local speak that means utmost satisfying, even orgasmic . To me, the steal item here is the carpaccio of 2 types of fish for only $18.
435 Orchard Road #04-21 Wisma Atria Singapore Tel: +65 9180 3805. Nearest MRT Station: Orchard
3. RIA Ayam Penyet
Don’t miss this one. Especially if you love crispy stuff, sambal chilli and Indonesian food. Lucky plaza has as many as five joints serving ayam penyet, but the one everyone seems to gravitate towards is RIA. It’s the biggest and most famous and the one with the widest variety of other things to order other than ayam penyet. Ayam (chicken) Penyet (to flatten) is a
deep fried chicken dish flattened or smashed with a wooden pestle, drowned in crispy batter bits, served on fragrant rice, sambal chilli and fried beancurd and tempe.
Alternatively, instead of chicken, you may opt for squid (cumi-cumi penyet) or beef (empal penyet) or catfish (lele penyet). The chicken version is the “original” and in biting it’s crispy skin an explosion of flavours. With the owner nowhere to be found, we asked die-hard fans and was told that turmeric, cumin, coriander and the faintest of lemongrass spices goes into what made this dish soooo sedap. It makes my mouth water just writing this!! Sides you absolutely must order include Bakso Sop (meatball soup),
Gado Gado (veggies in peanut sauce). End your meal with dessert like ice chendol or avocado juice.
4. MY FAVOURITE CAFE
Looking past its unsexy shop name and its obscure location (tucked in a corner at the top floor of Lucky Plaza), you will find one of the most underrated must eats selling Yong Tau Foo. Yong Tau Foo which means “stuffed bean curd” is a Chinese soup dish of a smorgasbord of tofu stuffed with a meat paste of fish and pork. Vegetables like bittergourds, ladies fingers, chillies are filled with this stuffing and eating with clear consumme soup accompanied by the crispy fried fritters of bean curd skin to give a contrast of soft texture al dente items with the crispy and crunchy variety. Yong Tau Foo can be eaten dry or soup version. If you’re there with a lunch companion, have one of each and see which you prefer. You can choose to eat this medley of goodies with rice (less common), egg noodle, bee hoon (rice vermicelli) or kuay teow or mixed. Our favourite: kuay teow bee hoon mixed and have it dry. They still serve a side bowl of soup anyways so you get the best of both worlds. What makes this the mother of all Yong Tau Foo stalls? Two items: their deep fried pork meatballs and their black mushrooms. If you don’t believe us, peer into every bowl of patrons there, everybody comes for that. These two items are seriously worth the long wait. This is a firm favourite amongst the locals as well. And the lunch crowd descend upon this joint like locusts. It is not uncommon to see a line of 20 people patiently waiting their turn by 1145 a.m. so my best advice is to be there before 1130 a.m. or during the slower hours of 3 to 5 p.m. Best part of this, the entire meal costs $5 – 6. Downside: Be prepared to share tables and bump elbows with the hungry but appreciative crowd.
My Favourite Cafe 304 Orchard Road #06 – 46/47 Lucky Plaza Operating hours: 8a.m. – 6p.m. (except Sunday). Nearest MRT Station: Orchard
If only mom could cook like grandma … This is a haunt simply because of the home cooked tastes. If dining alone, go for the Nasi Buhkari, a good one dish meal with chucks of beef rendang, fried chicken thigh and assam (tamarind) prawns. It is not as common or easily found as nasi lemak. When I’m eating with friends in a group, besides beef rendang and assam prawns, we also order san bei ji (chicken dish cooked with 3 types of wine) and Grandma’s honey chicken and Ngoh Hiang (beancurd skin roll with minced pork and prawn inside). If you are adventurous, try the sambal petai, it is spicy and the bean pods have a bitter edge. Eating petai is good for your kidneys. Then leave room for a sweet finish with chendol (shaved ice with coconut milk, palm coconut sugar syrup, red beans and green jelly), or sago gula melaka as dessert or to quell the spiciness.
290 Orchard Road #B1-42/43 Paragon Singapore 238859. Nearest MRT Station: Orchard
6. Ma Maison
Atkin’s diet available here. Juicy and succulent battered deep-fried pork loin or fillet tonkatsu with refreshing shredded sweet cabbage allows me to sustain the Atkin’s diet. But I do cheat and have rice because this place uses the Kamado Japanese traditional rice cooker. On a promotional or seasonal basis, Ma Maison offers mielle-feuille tonkatsu with cheese or ume shiso. The combination of layers of pork and both ume and shiso is irresistable. The ume and shiso adds citrusy fragrance and cuts through any oiliness. In all honesty, there is none which is surprising for a deep-fried dish.
333A Orchard Road Level 2 Mandarin Gallery Singapore 238897 Nearest Station: Somerset
7. Nam Nam
Comfort food for internationalised Singapore tastebuds. There are few things I crave more than either Japanese ramen or Vietnamese pho. With 3 outlets on Orchard Road, I easily get my fix. The queues are about equally long at any of the three outlets. Even at 11am, the tables are easily all occupied and only counter seats avail. The partial self-service may make you think Nam Nam is a Viet fast food place but its part of the fine dining Les Ami Group. The restaurant’s name is derived from name of Chef Nguyen Quoc Nam. Nam Nam serves Hanoi pho, which is simply garnished with finely chopped spring onions, so don’t ask for mint or basil meant for Saigon-style pho. The robust soup needs none of the 5 bottles of sauces and seasoning on every table. Only on rare occasions, I dissolve a squirt or hoisin sauce and watery sweet chilli sauce in half a spoon of soup before stirring it all into the bowl of noodles. The lunch set is a steal at $9.90 for a piping hot bowl of generous portion of machine-sliced beef and fresh thin rice noodles plus a side dish of tangy and crunchy salad of cucumber, cabbage, carrots, 2 slices of smoked belly pork plus your choice of Vietnamese coffee or tea. The salad side dish is half the size of an ala carte serve selling at $5,90. The guys who hate veggies prefer the previous side dish of Vietnamese spring rolls with a peanut sauce dip but change is good. For a sweet finish, try the vanilla pudding with palm sugar caramel.
68 Orchard Road #01-55 Plaza Singapura Tel: 6837 2252 Nearest MRT Station: Dhoby Ghaut. Other outlets are in the basement of Wheelock Place and Raffles City.
8. PRIMA TASTE KITCHEN
Local Singaporean tastes from flour to revolving restaurant to local classics. No, it isn’t a cousin of the soup kitchen. Several local Singapore eateries have the word ‘kitchen’ in their name but the menu prices are equivalent to cafes or bistros. This place ticks all the boxes for convenience, location, taste and pricing. It is located in Centrepoint (take the basement escalator in the corner from Guardian pharmacy), which was the centre of Orchard Road until the hip action shifted closer to Orchard Station. The location is still central and it is the only one-stop place for sampling several local delights at one go. Food like satay tends to be available only at dinner time but you can have it for lunch here. I recommend the sampler, choose 3 from 5, for under S$10. I would go for the chicken rice, mee siam and laksa. The chicken is simply boiled with ginger and spring onions and chopped up, the skin is smooth and succulent because of alternating dunking in very hot, then very cold water. The rice is flavoured and cooked with some chicken oil and sweet-scenting pandan leaves. Mee Siam is rice vermicelli in a tangy and mildly spicy sauce, garnished with fried bean curd cubes. Laksa is white noodles, like spaghetti, cooked in a light curry broth using laksa chilli paste and smooth coconut milk. Cockles, prawns and shredded chicken and a garnish of slivers of aromatic laksa leaves complete the dish. This is also 1 of 2 places on Orchard Road to eat rojak (salad of cucumber, pineapple, turnip and beancurd skin dressed in black prawn paste), which is available here only as ala carte item. Buy prepared sauces in travel-proof packaging to take home and cook up what you just ate. The selection also includes the sauce for Singapore’s famous chilli crab and pepper crab. Prices range from $4.50 to $7.90 per box. Where: www.primataste.com.sg 176 Orchard Road #01-63/64 The Centrepoint Singapore 238843 Tel: +65 6887 3786 Nearest Station: Somerset
Old school butler service in a Russian restaurant. This place is an establishment, has been around for four or more decades. While owner chefs are common, owner waiters and waitresses are rare. The senior service staff at Shashlik OWN the restaurant, which they acquired by buying out the former Troika restaurant located in the CBD downtown at Raffles Place. Service is known to be rude; the friendliest was the captain, who was the first to pass away. The rudest owner waiter is still there, has mellowed through the years and gives you a wry smile on good days, if he recognises you as a regular from long time ago. Think of them as the last bastions of Hainanese men, who worked as butlers for the British when Singapore was colonised. They may seem brusque but at least they keep service standards in all other aspects. The food and drinks get trolleyed to my table or is served covered from kitchen to table. Crumbs on the table are swept clean before coffee, tea and dessert is served. I head for Shashlik when I crave borsch served with piping hot bread rolls. Of course there is nothing like homemade garlic bread with the grill lines on the toasts. I also eat at Shashlik when I want Western food in air-conditioning comfort for under S$15, which you can get here as a lunch set everyday except Sundays. I’m happy with the pork chop (with bone), chicken cutlet or fish and chips (Friday’s option) and pay $1 more to have borsch soup as part of the set. Where: 545 Orchard Road Singapore 238882 #06- Far East Shopping Centre Tel : +65 6732 6401 Nearest Station: Orchard
10. MARMALADE PANTRY
Consistent good food and regular haunt for steak and fries and more. You cannot go wrong eating at a place that uses quality ingredients and maintains its standard, keeping its edge, despite the many new dining options invading the Singapore shores in recent years. Prices are reasonable for what you get here, starting from $32. Familiar favourites are roasted pork belly and mashed potatoes and the steak and eggs, well worth allocating your calories quota to. You must save room for the sweets – good Old Fashioned Chocolate Fudge Cake or the Sea Salt and Caramel Cheesecake. Run out of ideas for where to eat on weekends? Head to Marmalade for brunch. You can have salads on hot and muggy days or order perennial favourites such as Eggs Benedict, slow-cooked oxtail soup, snapper ragout in a foil packet or steak sandwich. Complete with lemon brulee tart or red velvet cake.
2 Orchard Turn Singapore 238801 #03-22 ION Orchard Tel: +65 6734 2700 Nearest MRT Station: Orchard