|When it comes to dining in Singapore’s farther-flung areas, there’s no shortage of char kway teow to be found. But locating a fancy steak or an authentic pasta is more of a challenge. So, we sent our editors east, north and west out of the city centre in search of a handful of great suburban meals.|
Fat Boy’s The Burger Bar
465 Joo Chiat Road (near East Coast Road)
At first glance, a burger bar seems at odds with the Peranakan feel of Joo Chiat Road, but it certainly adds another dimension to the wide range of cuisines on offer. More in keeping is the hip Singaporean couple who delight my young ones by parking their Harley Davidson right outside Fat Boy’s The Burger Bar, sliding onto the bench-style seating and placing their helmets carefully nearby.
Our kids could do with some entertainment as they’ve each just scoffed a thick malt shake ($6.50), one mango-flavoured and the other chocolate; the sugar kick has them buzzing. We parents are more laidback as we enjoy two Australian beers – a Coopers Pale Ale ($12) and Little Creatures Bright Ale ($12) – and try to ignore the shenanigans before us.
Opting to keep it simple this Saturday night, we’ve ordered a variety of dishes to share: the Holy Caesar ($12), best described as a chicken Caesar salad on a burger; the enormous fish and chips ($12.50), the grilled salmon fillet ($15) and the Wimpy burger ($13) which is described as just half of the bestselling Fat Basterd.
We’re not sure if the name alludes to the character in Mike Myer’s Austin Powers films, but Basterd is a burger to be reckoned with. It boasts double everything you’ll find on the Wimpy: beef patty, bacon, cheese, a fried egg and an in-house sauce.
Other than a slice of tomato and a lettuce leaf to garnish, there’s little by way of greens served with your meal, so leaf-eaters would need to order from the menu of assorted side dishes.
There are several dessert options, including a selection of ice cream in flavours such as peanut butter (the Fat Basterd of desserts, methinks) and macadamia, but we’ve had enough calories for the evening and it’s time for an early night.
Two Singaporean brothers set up Fat Boy’s after learning the burger trade at the Hard Rock Café. They’ve expanded from their original outlet at Upper Thomson Road, to a Mohamed Sultan hole-in-the-wall and the newly opened Joo Chiat branch.
It’s not fine dining, but the casual menu, friendly staff and cheery interior make it ideal for an easy meal with friends and family any night of the week.
Block 18B Dempsey Road
Whenever I have sushi it’s usually because of a rapacious craving for it. And when that craving hits, nothing but the finest, freshest, melt-in-your-mouth sashimi will do.
The trouble is, in most cases, I just make a beeline for the nearest place with a Japanese lantern hanging outside. Sadly they’re not always entirely authentic and the food can be more disappointing than a Ricky Gervais movie. So when I was invited to try out Zento in Dempsey, I hoped I might have finally found a reliable remedy for my cravings.
If only the darkest, smallest, most wooden-tabled room will do for your sushi habit, Zento isn’t for you. It’s a cavernous barrack, swaggering in space with exposed black rafters that demonstrate Japanese minimalism at its best. The space is balanced by some well-placed dividers that create a sense of intimacy so you won’t spend the meal with raised voices echoing as you clink sake shots.
The beau and I started with the Skinny Tuna Pizza ($22), Rock Shrimp Tempura ($15) and a Zento Sushi Platter ($29). The pizza has a bit of a kick and is ideal for those taking baby steps with spice, and the tempura is a safe way to ease the initial yen (pun intended). The star starter has to be the platter, a perfect pick-and-mix of the very best of Japanese elitism; tuna, salmon, swordfish, scallops and oysters are flown in daily from Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Market. Chef Gunawan Wibison hand-cuts a slice of each, adds a splash of flavouring and serves it up on five small dishes. The oyster comes in a half shell and went down so well the sake, it was enough to make me consider ordering another ten.
Thankfully the Volcano Roll ($25) arrived and, rather like a three-year-old, my attention was stolen by something prettier. At first glance, the roll is like any colourful maki roll with shrimp, smoked salmon, avocado, fish roe and crabstick. Look more closely, though, and you’ll see that the whole thing is deep-fried. This creates a satisfying crunch and a surprising warmth when its spicy sauce oozes onto your tastebuds.
If you’re a carbohydrate naysayer, you might prefer Zento’s riceless maki ($25): Mango, tuna and avocado are wrapped in rice-paper and drizzled with honey mustard; it’s a clever and tasty palate cleanser.
In a tribute to Vannessa Williams, Zento “saved the best for last” bringing out Tempura Ice Cream ($12). It’s a Japanese take on Baked Alaska: cold ice cream in a warm, sweet batter case. Enough to put the polish, gift-wrap and bow on any sushi craving.
Osteria Italia (closed)
201 Telok Kurau Road, #01-06 Kurau Court
We’ve only just started tucking into our antipasto ($28) and already we’re trying in vain to ignore the mouth-watering desserts being ferried past our table. The tiramisu is calling but first we must do justice to the authentic starter plate, which is loaded with prosciutto, grilled zucchini and eggplant, salami, artichokes and piping-hot foccacia.
Tucked away in suburban Telok Kurau just off East Coast Road, Osteria Italia is a new restaurant that’s bound to develop a loyal following for its simple, honest and high-quality food. Luka Zainuddin comes from a family of restaurateurs in Modena, Italy, so with the right lineage, he and his Singaporean-Malay wife Linda decided a casual osteria would be just right for the East Coast lifestyle.
The house white, Fiorile Grecanico (Sicily, $9), is a fine match for the range of dishes that we opt to share in order to sample the generous menu. Perennial favourite spaghetti carbonara ($22) is deliciously creamy (close your eyes and forget about your waistline) and risotto alla zafferano ($26) lives up to its name with a brillant saffron hue and tender, large prawns.
Our prosciutto di parma e rucola pizza ($25) is served piping hot from the oven and it’s impossible to eat just one slice. Thin-crusted and topped with mozzarella, parma and rocket on a tomato base, it evokes memories of youthful Roman holidays. Takeaways are available, too.
By the time we are ready to order dessert, the tiramisu has gone. And no wonder: homemade desserts are rare these days. The disappointment is easily appeased, though, with a light and creamy panna cotta ($7.90) topped with berries, and a simple vanilla gelato ($4.90).
With al fresco and indoor options, Osteria Italia is ideal for casual lunches and dinners for couples, families and groups.
HooHa Café (closed)
216 Pasir Panjang Road
It’s been said that HooHa Café is hard to find. A neighbourhood establishment in Pasir Panjang, a sleepy, south-western section of town with rolling green parks and an eclectic mix of black-and-white and old kampong houses, HooHa found the perfect remedy – light up the place with enough neon twinklers to make it impossible to miss.
When HooHa Café opened its doors in 1997, it had one goal in mind: to serve top-quality steaks in a laidback setting. After all, who wants to throw on a suit and tie just to get a good piece of meat? Not these guys.
The restaurant’s longevity speaks for itself. But do they still have it – that something that makes people traverse the entire island for a casual dinner? There was only one way to find out.
The Steak: I ordered the “Ultimate Tenderloin Steak” – 200 grams of New Zealand beef served with a choice of seven secret sauces. Secret, eh? I tell the waiter to surprise me. I’m not a sauce person anyway; I prefer to let the steak do the talking. A beautifully-chargrilled piece of sizzling steak arrives with mashed potato and ratatouille sides. I play along and delicately dip a bit of steak into the black pepper sauce. Loved it! The sauce and steak combo was divine. From then on, dipping was out – dunking was in.
The Setback: $36. Bigger appetites can opt for the 300gm ($52), 400gm ($68) and whopping 500gm ($84) portions.
The Setting: A colourful, casual shophouse with muralled walls and funky chandeliers. The heart of the restaurant is located inside an open courtyard lined with wine bottles and Christmas lights.
Though steaks are HooHa’s thing, the menu is vast. In the mood for ribs, seafood, pizza, pasta, Asian or Tex-Mex? Even your pickiest family member will be satisfied. Next time, I think I’ll try the Nachos Mamasita ($12) with the rack of lamb ($29), simply because I can.