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Restaurant review: Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food in Singapore

Long before silver service, waiters and restaurants existed, people gathered together to share food and conversation over sumptuously aromatic dishes. Sharing creates a wonderful combination of chattering plates, glasses and people, and strangers become new friends over the bond of flavours. Inspired by this thought, here are some of the island’s best places to share food and laughter in true Mediterranean and Middle Eastern style.

Restaurant: Original Sin
Block 43 #01-62 Jalan Merah Saga
Chip Bee Gardens
6475 5605
www.originalsin.com.sg

 

Dined with: My girlie mate

Ordered: basilico ($12), haloumi ($18), mezze platter ($20), bosco misto ($26) and moussaka ($24)

“Finally, hummus that tastes like it’s been made with chickpeas!”

“I know exactly what you mean,” I reply to my good chum’s bray. “Since I’ve been in Singapore, I’ve tasted everything from fizzy and chunky to garlicky and onion-saturated, and in colours from pale oatmeal to neon orange.” We giggle at memories of some of the disastrous morsels we’ve tried on the island, knowing tonight we are in safe hands at Original Sin.

In its intimate alfresco dining area, we indulge in food, delicious wine and gossip. Our conversation is peppered with “You’ve got to try this” and “Oh! I luurve dipping my bread in that”. We wondered if the world would be a better place if all meals were shared in this fashion. “A slice of cuisine from every nationality could be on the table,” philosophises my friend. “Tapas: the perfect cultural melting pot.”

With the quest for world peace solved, we split a spinach, feta and tofu patty (bosco misto) and a moussaka. After the first bite, we pause to share a smile, then wolf the whole lot down. I have no idea why this place is called Original Sin, but it’s one of the few boltholes on the island that has reliably great food and the perfect end-of-a-busy-day vibe.

Restaurant: Kazbar
25 Church Street
#01-03 Capital Square 3
www.kazbar.com


Dined with: the husband
Ordered:
mixed mezza platter ($23), mixed grill platter ($41), fattoush salad ($16), couscous royale ($30) and baklava ($7)

Weekday nights at Kazbar’s Capital Square outlet are as frenetic as a Fez weekend market – in a good way. The suits in the surrounding office buildings beeline to this restaurant for cool drinks and spit-roasted shawarmas. But tonight the goal is sharing, both food and conversation, and nothing like a plateful of hummus, moutabel, babaganoush, falafel and pita makes this easier.

The lamb shank “royale” is truly that; I gently lift the bone and on cue tender chunks of meat fall off in all directions. The minty fattoush salad, a great alternative to the tabbouleh, is light against the hearty meats. (Plus, as manager Steven Lim says, “everyone orders the tabbouleh!”)

“I love this type of food – a bite of this, a nibble of that,” I tell Husband. “It makes a dinner of pork chops and baked potato from back home seem downright depressing,” he replies.

Baklava has never been our favourite, but Kazbar’s Lebanese pastry chef turned our ambivalence on its head. This rendition is as heavenly as the rest of the meal – a true testament as to why this restaurant has outlived nearly all its neighbours in this CBD after hour’s enclave.

Restaurant: Anar
26 Sentosa Gateway
6884 6989
anar@gulfhospitality.com.sg


Dined with: Other half
Ordered:
dejaj salad ($14), moutabel ($12), hummus with minced beef ($14), amoli eggplant and braised lamb ($14), falafel ($12), Anar special platter with rice ($140) and falodeh shirazi ($14)

A massive three-metre-wide chandelier was the topic of conversation at Anar. The chandelier, imported from Damascus, is the opulent centrepiece of this newly opened Sentosa restaurant. Velvet curtains, brocade-covered chairs and beautiful table linens completed the feeling of being whisked off to Persia of old.

We enjoy Middle Eastern food and regularly cook an assortment of dishes, so we were keen to sample Anar’s interpretation. The taste, texture and flavour of the hummus, falafel and grilled meats were certainly different to what we cook at home – they were so much better!

Indeed, the inclusion of fresh and sweet pomegranate seeds in many of the dishes was a revelation. It inspired my other half to proclaim, “We really should find recipes for our favourite dishes of the day” – namely, the moutabel, a type of eggplant hummus, and the amoli eggplant and lamb, a pureed mixture of the two ingredients with green lentils and yoghurt.

Another highlight was the homemade feta. Creamy, firm and with a slight tang, it paired well with the salads and freshly baked flatbread pulled straight from the traditional oven. We probably won’t attempt to make the feta at home, but we might plead with the chef for some “bootleg” out the back door.

Restaurant: Michelangelo’s 
Block 44 Jalan Merah Saga
#01-60 Chip Bee Gardens
6475 9069
www.michelangelos.com.sg

 

Dined with: Two girlfriends in dire need of a glass of wine, accompanied by the main man himself, owner Michael
Ordered:
prawn & buffala mozzarella with parma ham, escargot with garlic butter avocado, smoked salmon rosettes, four seasons dessert platter and more (starters from $12 to $28; mains from $18 to $44; desserts from $5 to $15)

Adored by the young and old, Holland Village never ceases to draw in weary city-goers, and such was the case on this evening. Having spent the majority of my day in the Nordic temperature of the EL office, Michelangelo’s outdoor setting was a godsend. The crisp linen, dimly lit porch and dangling tea-lights effortlessly created an atmosphere of casual chic, accommodating both secluded romantics and laugh-hearty friends.

Cooled by a steady breeze and a chilled glass of Peccavi, our spirits were lifted and talk of work drew to a close. Perhaps it was the truffle-salt sprinkled on various bites, the homemade chili con carne, the ever-so sticky date pudding or the peculiar yellow berry that sat atop our dessert platter (which I later discovered to be a physalis or “Chinese lantern”), but the theme and taste for adventure soon seeped into the conversation.

“So far we’ve talked about dating in Singapore, weddings in Santorini and where to go for a decent teppanyaki,” said one of my girlfriends. “What next?” Here’s what – why Sambuca shots are often served with coffee beans, and which Michelangelo pudding you’d eat if it was your last. (We tried four in the name of research.)

Restaurant: Sabroso Tapas Wine Bar 
26A Lorong Mambong
Holland Village
6766 0053
www.sabroso.com.sg

 

Dined with: The beau

Ordered: bocadillas ($13), gambas alajillo ($13), cacerola de asar vicira  ($13) and costillas a la barbacoa ($15)

We weren’t actually talking to each other when the beau finally turned up at the restaurant, late, as always. I think both of us were slightly dreading dinner because it was obviously going to be one of those meals. You know the ones, when you’re both seething with irritation, and every little thing your other half does hangs tensely in the air. But dinner was a distraction that saved us.

We rarely eat out at Holland Village, so it was a new thing for us to discover the swathes of families and friends chatting, laughing and clinking glasses at the street-party end of Lorong Mambong. It’s so much easier to forgive tardiness when you’re ensconced in a jovial environment and chewing perfectly cooked scallops draped in a cava white-wine cream. And when the succulent barbecued pork ribs (costillas a la barbacoa) were delivered to our table, involuntary “mmmms” and smiles leaked out. It was time to abandon “radio silence”.

“Friends?” I enquired holding my glass up.

“Friends!” the beau smiled back. We meandered through the menu sampling garlic prawns and bites of focaccia laden with ham and Manchego cheese. With every bite our mood improved, proving the adage that the way to the heart is through the stomach.

Restaurant: Don Quijote
Block 7 Dempsey Road #01-02
6476 2811
www.don-quijote-restaurants.com


Dined with: My younger sister and childhood friend, J

Ordered: garlic fried mixed mushrooms ($9), scallops with béchamel sauce ($17), beef tripe with chorizo ($15), broken eggs ($14), beef cheek in red wine reduction ($18), oxtail stew ($34), squid ink pasta ($30), fried milk in syrup ($9) and warm chocolate cake ($19)

It started with the sangria. Before we knew it, our ladylike postures were reduced to a semi-slouch and the laughter volume had been turned right up. “This is going to be a good night!” the three of us chimed together. My sister hadn’t actually met J before, but they were hitting it off as we gleefully “mmm”-ed over the plates spread before us.

The food was intensely flavoured, offering a real punch with each bite, especially the mushrooms and squid ink pasta. And after eagerly tucking into the broken eggs, we three felt like native Spaniards, proudly claiming the dish would be the best breakfast food ever. But what really tickled us was when the waiter serving an adjacent table busted out a whole conversation in Mandarin. This wouldn’t have been funny if he was Chinese himself, but he wasn’t. Meanwhile our own waiter, who clearly was Chinese, spent the evening entertaining us with mostly accurate Spanish!

Restaurant: Serenity Spanish Bar & Restaurant
#01-98/99 VivoCity
No.1 Harbourfront Walk
6376 8185 
www.serenity.com.sg


Dined with: The husband who had just flown in from the Mediterranean

Ordered:

• Tapas – calamares a la plancha (grilled fresh squid – $15.80), jamón ibérico ($19.80), deep-fried cod fishcakes ($16), pulpo a la gallega (grilled octopus – $16.80), tortilla española with potato and onion ($7.80)

• Mains – arroz negro for two (black squid ink paella – $43) with plump sweet mussels, tiger prawns, red peppers and peas

• Dessert – naranjas al vino dulce (orange soused with warm Spanish sweet wine, served with ice cream – $9.80)

A great band playing Spanish ballads greeted us at Serenity as we chose our table facing the sea. With the lights of Sentosa twinkling from across the waters and the occasional warm sea breeze, there was a whiff of holiday in the air.

When the tapas arrived, we were transported back to a weekend in Madrid during our dating days, where wine sipping and tapas nibbling were de rigueur. Back to the present and instead of our usual tipple, we opted for blanco sangria decorated with cherries, oranges and umbrellas, which kicked us thoroughly into tourist vibe.

Flicking through the menu, we came across fish baked in salt, recalling our first proper holiday together – a trip to the coast of Kalkan, Turkey – where we experienced this dish dining on alfresco on rooftops. Our better selves would have stopped at tapas, but as we were on holiday, ahem, we thought we’d soldier on to a “main course” as recommended. We ordered the house specialty, paella, which took a satisfyingly authentic time to prepare leaving more time for holiday reminiscing.

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