Plonk @ Serangoon Gardens

2018-04-04 22.05.21 (640x447)Had a gathering with ex-colleagues from my TV days a couple of Wednesdays ago and the venue of choice was Plonk, a rather cool food and wine bar in Serangoon Gardens. Housed in a two-storied terrace house, the place certainly looks warm and inviting, with service staff greeting you at the entrance.

Downstairs is where the bar is with a long table in the centre. Upstairs, dining tables are spaciously placed but what is really captivating is the number of colorful artpieces and stylish photographs that lined the walls as decor.

2018-04-04 19.24.38 (640x640)The food and ambience at Plonk is described as Mediterranean with a dash of Australian. The extensive menu with clearly-named categories seems to cater much to large groups as sharing is much encouraged starting with the “Sharing is Caring” appetizers; the meat, seafood and pasta items in “The Main Attraction”; a variety of salads in “A Healthy Kick”; 10 kinds of pizzas from “In Crust We Trust”; and finally, four dessert choices in “the Grand Finale”. Beverages wise, there’s a wide selection of wines, beers, cocktails and gourmet coffees to choose from.

2018-04-04 19.50.52 (640x640)As there was six of us, sharing was the obvious choice. We kicked off with the appetizers as of course those came first. The Housemade Beetroot Yoghurt, Hummus And Pesto Dips Served With Toast ($16) was lovely although I can live without the beetroot yoghurt which others seem to enjoy. A very nice starter was the Patatas Bravas With Smoked Paprika Mayonnaise ($12, seen top right), which are potato cubes fried in a spicy tomato sauce and so good that we ordered another plate.

2018-04-04 19.50.47 (640x640)Another delightful item was the Seared Halloumi With Watermelon, Shallot And Accompanied By Raspberry Reduction ($13). The mini slabs of halloumi, a traditional semi-hard white cheese originating from Cyprus, were deeply savory and its unique flavor further enhanced by the robust shallot and sweet watermelon.

One thing for sure, Plonk’s pizzas are very good and best of all, they are all thin-crust. We first ordered the Truffle ($25) which is generously sprinkled with forest mushrooms, shaved parmesan and (we think) dashes of truffle. It was delicious and it didn’t take us long to decide that we should order another one for our second round.
2018-04-04 20.34.15 (640x640)Our first “add-on” was a pasta – we had the Seafood Linguin Aglio Olio Style ($24) that came with jumbo prawns, calamari, blue mussels and baby scallops. The pasta was delicious but as every person took a piece of seafood each, all I can tell you that they were all fresh and tasty.
2018-04-04 20.35.41 (640x640)So glad we ended on a great taste – we had the Four Cheese pizza ($25), a bright yellow beauty comprising mozzarella, blue cheese, cheddar and parmesan. Every bite was a delight. We only later learnt that it’s 1-for-1 pizza on Tuesday evenings. If we have known earlier, we would have come a day earlier. Never mind, next visit will be on a Tuesday for sure.
2018-04-04 19.40.40 (468x640)

My choice of poison for the night is this Italian beer. Peroni Nastro Azzurro is a Euro pale lager is crisp and refreshing. Created in 1963 with the finest hops, the name – I googled -means “Blue Ribbon” in honor of an Italian ocean liner which crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the fastest time in 1933. Better than naming it the Titanic I guessed, haha! Good beer.

Besides the good food, what really made our evening really great was the fact that we had the whole second floor to ourselves, making lots of noise (as always) without bothering everyone else. We thought it must be a quiet Wednesday night until we trooped downstairs after paying up and saw that it was packed like sardines on the ground floor.

All in all, Plonk was a delight – from its great pizzas to the artworks adorning its wall to the attentive service. We paid $26++ each which was really decent considering the amount of food we ordered. Definitely a place we can make a return to.

Plonk is at 7 Maju Avenue, Serangoon Gardens Estate, Singapore 556685. Opens daily from Mon-Fri (11am to late) and Sat-Sun (9am to late).


Joan Bowen Cafe @ Jln Wangi

20170830_192913 (640x640)A bunch of ex colleagues from my TV days met up recently and we decided to go to Joan Bowen Cafe, a social enterprise off MacPherson Road. Besides decent food, the casual cafe is well known for hiring staff with special needs, which the manageress took care to tell us at the start in case “service is not up to par”. But seriously, there is really nothing to complain about “The Special Culinary Centre” which has been running for close to seven years now.

The place, which has a vibrant art theme, is certainly much brighter and cheerier than my last visit a few years back. Next to their popular pasta and salad items, the menu has also been expanded to include more meat dishes and Japanese favorites.
20170830_193033 (640x622)We kicked off with this wonderful Salmon Skin Salad ($12/$18) that has crispy Salmon Skin served with mixed vegetables dripped with a lovely plum and sesame dressing. It was so good, we ordered another one! (Either that or we were really hungry!)
20170830_193853 (640x612)As majority of us were wine lovers, we asked for a bottle of red which was strong and flavorful, and at just $28, it was seriously more than fine. You can opt to bring your own bottles but there is a corkage fee of $15 for each bottle. They do serve an assortment of beers from $9, while house pour wine per glass costs $10.
20170830_194717 (640x640)As with most of my food-loving friends, each of us would try to order different dishes so we can sample each other’s food. I went for the Duck Leg Confit ($18) as I’m love the dish and am still looking for the best one on this sunny island of ours.  This wasn’t the best I tasted thus far but it was decent as the skin was crisp and the meat, though a tad dry, was still savory enough. Love the mashed potato and salad that came with it.
20170830_194044 (640x604)This rich-looking Chili Crab Pasta ($18) is a Joan Bowen Specialty and the folks who ordered it were highly satisfied with it. The gravy was spicy, chock-ful of spices and crab meat. (For me, I rather dip bread into chili crab gravy but that’s just me).
20170830_194054 (640x640)This was another interesting dish. It’s Grilled Beef Cubes in Skewers ($28) which is simply a fanciful name for Beef Satay. It’s a good choice if you love grilled meat. Not too light and not too heavy either.
20170830_193955 (640x640)This was actually the first order that arrived to the table and we were stunned by the generous portion – that’s two solid chicken thighs there, ladies and gentlemen! It was nice and tasty but way too much for one person unless you are really really into chicken. The pan-seared Rosemary & Lemon Chicken ($15) is marinated with rosemary, fresh lemon and garlic. Flavorful and chewy, it’s definitely value for money!
2017-08-30 20.56.41 (640x640)We had a great laugh when it came to dessert. We were all so full that we decided to order one Oreo Cheesecake ($3) and one Brownie a la mode (3) to share among 8 of us Let me tell you right now that each serving is meant for one person’s consumption and one person only! No wonder the waiter kinda rolled his eyes when he delivered it and smirked when we have the audacity to ask for eight spoons! We eventually ordered a few more of each, haha! The warm brownie with melted vanilla ice-cream is da bomb (pictured above, front) and highly recommended. The Oreo cheesecake (the one behind)  – “possibly the smallest cheesecake in the world”, as one friend quipped –  is alas simply a frozen mousse with cheese and cream; it tastes like frozen Oreo but that’s it.

At the end, our combined meal (comprising wine, main course, dessert and coffee) only cost us $30 each. Joan Bowen Cafe is a great place for dining either on your own or in groups. The only snag is that it is rather inconvenient to get to if you don’t have a car or a direct bus to MacPherson. The nearest MRT is Potong Pasir and even then that’s about a 20-minute walk to the cafe. Still, if you are in or around the area, do check it out as it’s a nice place to dine in and it has a great serving staff.

Joan Bowen Cafe is at 9 Jalan Wangi.

‘Tis the Season…

Greetings from Singapore – Merry Christmas to one and all across the globe! Blessing  you with the Season’s Wishes & Dreams of Joy, Peace and Hope! May all your days be merry and bright during this Yuletide period and throughout the New Year!

(The beautiful view above of the Singapore Flyer, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and Marina Bay Sands was taken from Aura, a bar and lounge which lies atop the National Gallery Singapore.)

Photo Credit: Marguerita Tan/Musings on the M49


Daessiksin Korean BBQ Buffett @ Bugis+

2016-12-17-18-39-24-640x480What’s the best to do after watching an adrenaline rush of a film such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? Go for a hearty, meaty buffet dinner of cos. And best thing about catching a movie at Filmgarde Cineplex at Bugis+ is that there is DaeSsikSin, the popular Korean BBQ Buffet restaurant just a floor below.
2016-12-17-18-35-31-640x482Good thing our movie ended about 6.15pm (on a Saturday) ‘cos just before 7pm, the place was packed. And it was easy to understand why: the meats alone were well worth the price per person ($24.90 adult, $18.90 child, all-day weekend). Beef choices alone has short rib, short plate, marinated ribeye, and beef bulgogi, all sliced up in generous portions. Pork choices were great too with the likes of pork belly and pork collar, all nicely sliced and fresh. There were various chicken choices too but our focus were mainly on the red meats.
2016-12-17-18-36-08-640x389There wasn’t much seafood choices but the prawns were big and fresh, and we decide to forgo the octopus to leave more room for the meats.
2016-12-17-18-36-02-640x498The vegetable selection is not extensive too but seriously, what more do you need besides lettuce, onions and mushrooms?
2016-12-17-18-36-19-640x353Ok, there’s also creamy corn and sweet tomatoes, but don’t forget this is a Korean restaurant so there’s a big helping of kimchi (sorry, just out of the picture above on the right) and a good number of condiments such as spicy chili paste and sliced red and green chili in soy sauce. There’s also a couple of cooked food items such as kimchi pancakes and roasted sweet potatoes, as well soups, white rice and kimchi rice. Soft drinks are free-flow too as they are included in the meal price.
2016-12-17-18-47-05-480x640For a BBQ place, the place doesn’t have that smoky feel, probably thanks to the extendable exhaust pipes that hang above very table. The cooking hot plate didn’t generate much heat too, unlike other BBQ places we’ve been (but it did cook the food efficiently). So all in all, it was a very enjoyable experience.
2016-12-17-18-44-10-640x480Here’s a close-up of the meat portions. Goodness know how many plates of beef short ribs we went back for – and there were three of us – ‘cos it was just so darn good!
2016-12-17-19-05-19-640x384Before we began picking our food, the waitress did mention that if we could finish up by 90 minutes, it would be great. “Oh, will you throw us out if we don’t?” we asked innocently. She gave a cheesy grin so we waved her away, saying, “Don’t worry, we will be done by then.” Well, my sister-in-law and I were stuffed by 90 minutes although my brother could go on for another hour. Not that I blame him, these buffets are really worth it for the guys (and girls with big appetites – I used to be one, no longer, sob…) We have absolutely no complaints about the offerings, all were in good portions and utterly fresh. Definitely a place we will come back again and again…

Daessiksin Korean BBQ Buffet is at 201 Victoria Street, Bugis Plus #04-05. On weekdays, there’s a two-hour limit per table. Lunch: $14.90 adult, $8.90 child; Dinner: $24.90 adult, $18.90 child. Weekends, PH and eve of PH: 1.5 hrs limit per table. All-day: $24.90 adult, $18.90 child

Update: DaeSsikSin Korean BBQ Buffet has opened another outlet at The Clementi Mall. Read my review of it here.

Open Door Policy @ Yong Siak Street

2016-09-11-18-31-20-480x640Had another belated Hatched Day treat recently and my friend and I opted to check out Open Door Policy (ODP), located in the hipster enclave of Tiong Bahru (Yong Siak Street, to be precise), which serves contemporary European cuisine.

Having walked from Tiong Bahru Plaza onto Yong Siak Street, we almost missed the restaurant as our attention was instead caught by a notebook vending machine at the nearby Books Actually. Thanks to ODP being a PoGo Pokestop, we realised we had bypass it and quickly retrace our steps back down the lane.

The restaurant has a greenhouse feel thanks to the real herbs and garnishes planted in wooden shelves with cute signages along the wall, against which dining tables face through the entire length of the premises. It also has an open kitchen concept where you can also sit at and see the five chefs in action, with a small bar area next to it near the entrance.
2016-09-11-18-35-19-527x640It was only when I asked for their range of beer did we realised that the menu at ODP is now “100% gluten-free and dairy-free”. Which was no problem with us actually and I got to try my first gluten-free beer ever. They only have two beer choices so I went for the lager  – Green’s Dry Hopped Lager pours golden with a little head and has a fruity, citrus and hoppy taste. “Naturally gluten & wheat free”, it’s not a bad taste but it’s definitely not what you would call a “manly beer”. The wine list is understandably more extensive and there’s a decent selection of cocktails and mocktails as well.
2016-09-11-18-40-36-538x640 The ODP menu comprises starters, mains, sides and desserts and is not jam-packed with items to choose from. Which sometimes is better so you don’t have to wreck your brain trying to figure out what to eat. For the appetisier, we decided to go for the Endive Gratin ($22, pictured above) which is premium smoked ham with red apples and veal jus.  It was an artistically well-presented dish and certainly unique in both style and taste.
2016-09-11-19-00-51-556x640For mains, my pal chose the Pan Seared Crispy Quail ($34) with turnips and chickepeas casserole and banana shallot. The quail meat was well-seasoned and tasty and we love the chickpeas. Just found the taste of the turnips different from the one we are used to and also, we couldn’t detect any banana flavour from the banana shallot. Maybe they meant banana-shaped shallots? (We were too hungry to ask…)
2016-09-11-19-01-31-534x640I opted for the Braised Veal Ossobuco ($32) with carrot risotto and smoked parika. Must confess that the carrot risotto took a while to get used to – the texture was fine but the carroty flavour… well, you can truly feel the “healthiness” of it all. No complaints about the veal which was tender and succulent, down to the bone marrow.

Our food choices didn’t exactly wow us but all in all, a nice experience at a place with good ambience. Damage came up to about $70 per person.

Open Door Policy is at 19 Yong Siak Street.



Le Binchotan @ Amoy Street

2016-08-30 14.34.40 (480x640)There are lots of interesting eateries along Amoy Street, even around the nooks and corners. At the northern end of the street, turn into Gemmill Lane to find the black wooden door entrance to Le Binchotan, a just-opened French-Japanese tapas bar and the latest venture by restaurateur  Jessica Lim (of Salut and Au Petit Salut fame) and three of her Japanese business partners. Upon entering you will be greeted by this long, well-lit bar counter (pictured above) which seems to go on forever, thanks to the ingenious placing of a wall-sized mirror at the end.
2016-08-30 14.28.00 (480x640)Though the place is small (seating capacity: 38), it has a classy look and you can see much effort has been made to make the dining areas as cosy as possible. You can either opt to eat the bar counter or a semi-private room area by the side where one wall is decorated with both real and fake binchō-tan (white charcoal). The latter was where the media tasting to which Musings on the M49 was invited to took place.

Offering french fare with a Japanese touch, the dinner menu offers a decent selection of small plates, large plates and, as the tapas bar’s name suggests, charcoal items featuring meat and seafood smoked over bincho-tan, said to be the preferred choice of most Japanese chefs.
2016-08-30 12.27.50 (640x640)Small Plate items were the first offerings and we had a great start with the Myoban Uni (sea urchin roe) with  Corn Mousse, Grilled Corn, Sudachi and Shoyu ($23). The uni was flavourful and I love the crunchiness of the corn bits in the mousse.
2016-08-30 12.34.26 (640x640)Next came the Madai ($25) which is Smoked Sea Bream with Eggplant, Radish and Sherry Vinegrette. Think of it as yu sheng with a French-Japanese flair.
2016-08-30 12.36.30 (480x640)Of the early dishes, this was my fave – the Shaven Foie Gras with Daikon, Daishi Gelée and Cured Shitake ($21). I have friends who gush about Daikon but seriously, it was the delicious – and generous – slices of foie gras all over the Daikon that had me at hello…
2016-08-30 12.54.27 (611x640)Next up were the Charcoal (single stick) items. The Wagyu Loin infused with Port Wine and Ume red plum liqueur ($15)  tasted rather like succulent char siew but enjoyable nonetheless. If you are a carnivore, a single stick probably won’t suffice but then again, there are other meaty items which you should leave room for…
2016-08-30 13.04.44 (640x640)The Lamb with Miso and Tapenade ($13) was another delight to bite into. Each charcoal item could possibly be shared between 3 small eaters. More sticks will have to be ordered for bigger groups.
2016-08-30 12.55.16 (510x640)To get some vegetables into the mix, try the Shishito with Furikake and Sea Salt ($9). The crunchy green peppers are not unlike lady fingers albeit with a sweeter bite.
2016-08-30 13.16.10 (640x640)We are now into the Large Plates and they are no less fascinating. Braised for 18 hours, the Iberico Pork Jowl infused with Katsu Curry and smoked over binchō-tan, then served with Green Apple and Charcoal Pumpkin ($35) was yummy with every bite. As tapas go, all the items in Le Binchotan are meant for sharing but this is one item that I wouldn’t mind having all to myself!
2016-08-30 13.13.50 (640x640)The slow-cooked Angus Short Rib – braised for 16 hours – with Leek Puree, Nagaimo and Kurosu Jus ($39) was another succulent dish that would please meat lovers.
2016-08-30 13.37.08 (480x640)For dessert, there are only three choices as the French-Japanese tapas bar wants customers to focus on the main food items but then again, the trio are great choices to end your meal with. First up is this truly creamy and delicious Coconut Pudding with Matcha Ice and Frozen Raspberry Bits ($15)…
2016-08-30 13.37.21 (480x640)…And then there’s this super rich Smoked Chocolate with Frozen Blueberry and Yogurt ($15)…
2016-08-30 13.42.17 (640x640)…And last but by no means least, there is this wonderful Cheese Platter selection comprising Smoked Cheddar, Gorgonzola, Gruyere, Apricot, Quince and Walnuts ($15) which is definitely one of the best cheese platters offered at a bar or restaurant I’ve ever seen in years.
2016-08-30 14.04.11 (640x640)Our table had a special treat when chef Jeremmy Chan came and explained that certain items on the menu will be subject to change whenever ingredients are available. An example was this delicious Goma (black sesame) Ice Cream and Caramel Almond which is usually only served in the lunch sets ($38++ for 3-course, $48++ for 4-course).
2016-08-30 13.14.33 (514x640)Okay, we are finally at the “bar” bit. Le Binchotan offers a wide range of wines, champagnes, sakes and classic cocktails. It also has 10 signature cocktails specially concocted by head barman Sugar Ray Ruben. The one above is Leon: Tea Professional ($21), named after the Natalie Portman-starrer. A fave with many of us, it is a sweet refreshing cocktail featuring Earl Grey Infused Whisky with Lemon, Egg White and Spiced Apple.
2016-08-30 13.11.50 (640x640)This cutie complete with bowtie is The Gin, The Flower and The Bowtie ($23) – inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – which is a tangy concoction of gun, lemon, coconut and roselle water.
2016-08-30 13.38.44 (640x640)Then there is the bar’s namesake itself, Le Binchotan ($23), which is a strong-flavoured  Japanese Whisky with Smokey Scotch, Egg White, Honey and Lime, and at times served with burning earl grey leaves on the top. Alas, this one came too late to catch the smokin’ drink on video…

I fell in love with tapas bars during my trips to Spain. With Le Binchotan, French-Japanese tapas bars may just grow on me too. Definitely a place to consider with friends who enjoy good tapas, drinks and ambience.

Le Binchotan is at 115 Amoy Street #01-04 (entrance via Gemmill Lane). Tel: 6221 6065. Open Mondays to Saturdays: Lunch: 11.30am – 3pm;  Dinner: 6pm – 11pm; Drinks: 10.30pm – 12am (only bar snacks and drinks will be served). Reservation is recommended due to limited seating.



The Executioner’s Apprentice

Apprentice--FINAL (553x800)

The entertainment and production quality of Singapore films have been improving by leaps and bounds in recent times. Last year’s SG50 film, 7 Letters,  was a delightful and thought-provoking piece that highlighted works from seven of our best homegrown directors. This year, one of the seven – Boo Junfeng of 2010’s Sandcastle fame, arguably just delivered the best local film of the year (thus far) with Apprentice, a fascinating, heartfelt and well-directed dramatisation of the uniformed personnel who work behind the walls – and gallows – of a fictitious prison in Singapore.

Here’s my  newspaper article, “Hangman’s Tales”, which features the Apprentice director and cast’s thoughts on the bright side of working on a dark film:

SINGAPORE — In Singapore, if a person murders another person, he or she could face the death penalty. Within the prison system, however, there is a person whose duty is to take a life. And it was this desire to understand the psyche of a prison executioner that drove Boo Junfeng to make his latest film Apprentice.

“In many societies where the death penalty is practised, we often forget that there is a person, a human being, who is empowered to kill,” the writer-director explained. “I was curious to see how he sees himself in the moral and ethical equation. To me, that is what was interesting — the human story behind the job, more than the (death penalty) issue itself.”

The 32-year-old took four years to research his sophomore film, including interviewing former executioners and people who have had family members executed. “The conversations I have had with these people can be made into a lot of other films. But I had to distil all of them out to make the film I wanted.”

What resulted was Apprentice, which focuses on soft-spoken correctional officer Aiman, who finds himself taken under the wing of the prison’s charismatic chief executioner Rahim, and the man who pulled the lever on Aiman’s father, who was on death row.

Masterfully played by Malaysian actor Wan Hanafi Su, Rahim is a person who takes no delight in his job, but who handles it as professionally as he can. Aiman, played by Singapore actor Fir Rahman, wears his uniform with equal pride, but being a casualty of the death penalty, he is constantly grappling with authority and morality.

Filmed primarily in Singapore and partly in Australia, the film is an earnest dramatisation that offers a chilling and fascinating look at the human stories of the people working behind the walls, and especially in the gallows, of a fictitious local prison.

Mild-mannered Boo is to be credited for coaxing fine performances out of his leads, who have nothing but praise for the director.

“He may be soft-spoken and sentimental, but he was very firm on set,” said Wan. Apprentice is the first overseas film the Malaysian veteran has starred in.

Singapore actress Mastura Ahmad, who plays Aiman’s older sister, concurred. “The film has many layers for each character yet Junfeng will make time to come to you, telling you exactly what he wants. He gets things done not by yelling or shouting, but with much patience,” she said.

Fir recalled what it was like filming the prison yard scene in a defunct prison near Sydney, Australia, during winter. “Junfeng was telling us to ‘imagine you are in Singapore …’ to which we cried, ‘But Singapore isn’t this cold what!’” the actor-cum-physical trainer said with a laugh, confessing they had to pile on heavy blankets the moment filming stopped. “I also have to make sure I have the right haircut and that I don’t put on weight. I have to look the same as I did, like, two weeks ago!”

In May, Apprentice held its world premiere at the 69th Cannes Film Festival. It was one of two Singaporean films at the prestigious event this year, the other being K Rajagopal’s A Yellow Bird, which premiered at International Critics’ Week. Fir felt “very honoured” to hit the festival in his first lead role and first feature film, while Mastura was overwhelmed by “the amazing response from the public and media”. And Wan not only held the distinction of being the first Malaysian actor to grace the red carpet at Cannes, he was also widely recognisable because of his signature long white hair and was “treated like a superstar”.

Apprentice did not win its Un Certain Regard category, but Boo is not losing any sleep over it. “If we start defining how good a film is purely by awards, I think we will miss a lot of good films. If you understand how competitions work, it is quite often decided by a jury and is entirely subjective,” he reasoned.

What was most important to him is having the right platform to show his film.

“The reviews have been very positive and very encouraging,” he said. “In the four years making Apprentice, I learnt a lot personally — not only as a film-maker but also as a person. I’ve grown to understand things that I never understood, seen facets of humanity that I haven’t seen before.”

Apprentice opens in Singapore cinemas on June 30.
(Other cities worldwide – UK, Poland, France, Turkey, Hong Kong, etc – please check your local arthouse listings.)

This article was originally published in TODAY newspaper on June 28, 2016.