Culture-rich Katong and Joo Chiat are known for their colourful Peranakan shophouses and, of course, their wide array of food offerings. We set out to sample some of these neighbourhoods’ foodie favourites.
Situated on the row of restaurants facing 112 Katong, this is a casual, contemporary space with a community feel – concrete walls, monochrome prints from an Italian graffiti artist and simple wooden furniture made especially for the restaurant owners by friends.
We started with a plate of candied, deep-fried bacon chips ($8), and the only way from there was to the burger ($25), one the best we’ve ever tried in Singapore – a moist, juicy patty full of flavour, with some bacon-flavoured chips, house-made ketchup and a salad; makes me want to try their new burger joint, Wolf Burger!
I’d normally never order pasta at a restaurant that specialises in meat, but the anchovy aglio olio ($20) was sensational – al dente spaghettini tossed in a mouth-busting umami anchovy garlic paste with a sous vide soft-boiled egg on top.
We drank a sharing bottle of Simtra Pale Ale ($30), which was big on flavour (and alcohol – 11.25 percent!) and matched the strong flavours of the food perfectly.
Next time, I want to try the Carvers Plate ($35/$70) – pork belly, roast chicken and another meat, which changes daily; the flavours they can infuse into the food makes such a difference!
STAR DISH: The bacon chips were certainly something special, but I would travel across town for this burger.
Open concept kitchen, huge pizza oven, high ceilings, exposed beams and brickwork, vintage furnishings and bric à brac, plus racks of untold bottles create oodles of atmosphere in the Katong shophouse that’s been home to Trattoria L’Operetta for the past four years. It’s by no means the only Italian restaurant in this foodie haven; but as we’re about to discover, this joint has something a bit different up its sleeve for us: Japanese executive chef Takashi Okhawa.
Highlights include just about everything we put in our mouths, from the amuse bouche of melba toasties sporting chicken liver pâté with fig, and taleggio cheese with black truffle. Burrata cheese with prosciutto comes with rocket and baby tomatoes ($32); sea-freshsautéed langoustines with eggplant purée ($48 when available à la carte, and also featured on Chef’s occasional omakase menus). Then follows bee-yoo-ti-ful house-made tagliolini with Hokkaido sea-urchin and bottarga ($38), andgrilled Ìberico pork ($28), surprisingly pink and deliciously tender with a caponata of mixed vegetables; finally, an exquisitely simple tiramisu ($10).
House wines by the glass include a nice Prosecco ($12; $68 per bottle) and a quaffable Montepulciano Illuminati ($14; $68).
Prices aren’t exactly low-end – today’s specials include an 800g T-bone at $118, for example – but there are wellpriced alternatives, including authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas that East Coast friends of ours rave about. And all, remember, from the hands of a brilliant chef.
STAR DISH: Tagliolini with Hokkaido sea-urchin and bottarga
This low-key, open-air family restaurant is decked out with American football jerseys, American flags, flat-screen TVs playing American football games, red-and-white chequered tablecloths and a kitchen entrance with funky saloon doors.
There’s a good selection of starters, with plenty of vegetarian options if you’re saving your meat fetish for later. The buffalo wings ($12 for 6 pieces, $20 for 12, $28 for 18), served with four varieties of sauces (mild, spicy, extra spicy or blue cheese), are a goodie and well worth trying. Psst: Smokey’s offers $1 wings on Wednesdays!
Also worth a taste are the jalapeño poppers ($11) – jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and served with marinara sauce; you’d think they would send you flying through the air, but the cream cheese keeps the heat down.
Smokey’s is best known for its ribs, and the baby back pork ribs ($29 for a half-slab) was definitely a good option, accompanied by coleslaw and sides like french fries and beef rice. One reason why these ribs are so good is the sauce – made from a secret recipe; also, the restaurant’s hickory and mesquite wood chips are imported from the States.
I went for the Smokey’s Original sauce which suited me fine, but for more of a kick, go with the Smokey’s Ghost. We had the baby ribs and brisket combo ($45); the brisket was tender, juicy and melted in our mouths – just the way brisket should.
The craft beer selection is surprisingly large; I tried the light Summer Love Ale ($14) from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and the Summer IPA draught beer ($11 for 300ml) – worth a try but nothing to write home about.
STAR DISH: Buffalo wings dipped in extra-spicy sauce, followed by blue cheese sauce, stole the show for me.
Other eats in the area…
Al Forno | alfornoeastcoast.sg
Rabbit Carrot Gun | rabbit-carrot-gun.com
Zaffron Kitchen | zaffronkitchen.com
The Chop House | the-chop-house.com
More hot ‘hoods to check out…
Though it may be more low-key than hip Katong and Joo Chiat, Siglap’s got a lot going for it on the food front, from coffee shops to cafés to gastropubs.
Located in the quiet and unassuming Opera Estate, Slake is a cosy restaurant and bar serving Asian-inspired fare. There’s nothing boring about the menu here. A recommended starter is the chilli crab rillettes ($14), served with four pieces of fried mini-mantou (Chinese buns). Rich in flavour, and loaded with real crab chunks, the pâté-like texture is dangerously addictive; slather it generously on the crispy-sweet buns and you’ve got a winning combination. Just remember to order an extra portion of the buns ($3) so none of that crab paste goes to waste.
For mains, the spice-rubbed Norwegian mackerel ($25) is an impressive-looking dish dedicated to true-blue fish lovers. Served whole with accompaniments like tomato chutney (which we loved), this dish is best shared among two or three diners. We thoroughly enjoyed the well-seasoned skin that was grilled to perfection, as well as the soft and tender flesh.
If you’re a sucker for salty-sweet, you’ll die for the sticky date pudding topped with bacon caramel ice cream ($10). Paired with a fluffy date sponge drenched in caramel sauce, the ice cream is a wonderful mix of creamy and sweet, chewy and salty – the perfect end to a satisfying meal.
Drinks-wise, Slake offers plenty of boozy choices, from cider to wine to beer. I stuck with one of the extensive non-alcoholic options, Santa Vittoria Limonata ($4), a refreshingly tangy lemon soda.
STAR DISH: Spice-rubbed Norwegian mackerel
Other eats in the area…
Etna Italian Restaurant | etnaitalianrestaurant.com.sg
Plank Sourdough Pizza | plankpizza.biz
Perle Noire Oyster and Grill Bar | perlenoire.com.sg
East Coast Park
Located along the coast, this beachside park and recreation area has heaps of coffee shops and eateries – just take your pick.
This family-friendly sports-bar spot is all about chilling out, from its laid-back beach-facing setting to its extensive menu of easy Western eats (not to mention a large list of cocktails, beers and ciders); we started with the simple and tasty fresh avocado and tomato bruschetta ($8) appetiser, made with guacamole and served with rocket.
From the selection of a dozen 10inch pizzas, I opted for the spicy chilli crab pizza ($23) – crab meat, onion and spicy chilli crab sauce – which was absolutely delish (I’m definitely returning for seconds). There’s also a great selection of pastas ($16 to $23) and seafood mains ($23 to 28) – my husband ordered the seared Cajun salmon ($25) – plus steaks ($28 to $31), burgers ($19 to $23), soups ($9 to $10), salads ($15 to $17) and sharing plates like roasted beer chicken ($28) and a charcoal grilled sausage platter ($35). Kids eat for $10.90, with a choice of cheese quesadilla, mini fish and chips, mac and cheese, ham and cheese sandwich, or chicken sausage Neapolitan, served with chicken nuggets, fries and fruit punch.
And, while mum and dad catch a sports game on the TV screens, kiddos can enjoy the restaurant’s most important feature, the 15-metre plunge pool, making SandBank a great weekend go-to.
STAR DISH: Save room for the chocolate peanut butter lava cake ($14.50) served with vanilla ice cream. It’s as good as it sounds!
Other eats in the area…
Brussels Sprouts | brusselssprouts.com.sg
Pick Me Up Café | facebook.com/pickmeupcafe
This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of Expat Living magazine Subscribe
For more restaurant recommendations, head to our Wine & Dine section