A Staycation in Singapore: Tasting Trendy (last in a series)

Part 1 here
Part 2 here

Note: All prices are in Singapore $ (SGD).

Thoughts while eating at trendy restaurants, and my favorite restaurant in Changi Airport.

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My Bin’s business associates in Singapore effusively praise Burnt Ends, a restaurant near Chinatown whose tables are most coveted. It’s been a hot ticket since it opened in May last year, and its compact space seems to underscore that point. There are only 18 seats at the counter plus just a handful more backed up against the wall. A front-row seat of course, is most desirable as it allows unfettered view of the impressive four ton, bi-cavity ovens, and a trio of elevation grills whose heights are adjusted via an industrial hoist and pulley system.

The custom-made contraptions are the clever inventions of Australian chef-owner, David Pynt; the restaurant, a reference to the grilled food he was raised on. From the chefs to the servers, everyone is suave and stylish, and serious about food.

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The menu changes every day, though there are constant favorites. The Smoked Quail Egg and Caviar ($15) is amazingly smoky, its middle lushly moist. The Sea Urchin & Cauliflower ($10) is remarkably devoid of the vegetable’s distinctive flavor. Instead, it’s morphed into a creaminess merging with the sea urchin’s own. “Will you only have one serving of each?” Asks our server. Apparently, one serving is for one person but today my Bin and I are in the mood to share. I suggest you be selfish however, as the portions are puny.

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It’s only very early into the lunch hour when we catch sight of the female maître d’ already crossing off the Burnt Ends’ Sanger ($20) on the menu. Not surprising since everyone seems to have ordered it, it’s a pulled pork shoulder in a brioche bun bound with a chipotle aioli and layered with coleslaw. Amply smoky as is most everything else here, the sandwich is juicy and satisfying but certainly not unique. I’ve eaten similar sandwiches elsewhere.

Our main dish is a Grilled Tri Tip ($23/100 grams) and it’s thrilling to watch a hunk of obviously quality meat being methodically sliced with what looks from this distance like a well-honed machete. I have to quell a bizarre urge to snatch the log of meat and flee.

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Our server presents the freshly-sliced meat to us, it glistens enticingly. “It’s 265 grams, that alright?” The server inquires. Nodding our assent, we sit back and nibble on the sourdough bread (above; $4) dipped in peppery olive oil while watching the kitchen action. If you come here, I do recommend padding your stomach and biding your time with appetizers while waiting for your mains. Our steak takes at least 25 minutes to cook. But it’s time well-spent as my Bin and I watch, fascinated, at the chefs. Every move utilized, every crank and lowering of the grills’ winches and pulleys decisive. It’s gripping to witness professionals work at this level. Though the stone oven runs to 700°C, the internal temperature of the dining room remains cool, and the ventilation is remarkable – not an errant wisp of smoke strays into the dining room.

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New cutlery in anticipation of the steak.

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The server returns finally, presenting our Grilled Tri Tip with much flourish. Cut from the rear portion of the bottom sirloin, a tri tip possesses a pronounced grain and is truly beefy. Frankly, it’s a refreshing change from Manila which is rib-eye steak country. Because tri tip is slightly tougher, I have to studiously chew, and chew some more before swallowing. Truly tasty it is, its bold flavor highlighted by the burnt onion sauce glimmering with bone marrow, or what look like garlic cloves in the photo above.

As my Bin and I eat, we compare and contrast the sophistication of eaters in both Singapore and Manila. We consider whether a restaurant like Burnt Ends would thrive in Manila and what would be the upper price spectrum that diners would pay for an exceptional meal with good value? Interesting thoughts to consider since we were both involved earlier this year in opening a restaurant.

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Dessert is just a skip away from Burnt Ends: eating durian by the roadside in Chinatown. My Bin makes sure to sit a considerable distance away from me, his face a mixture of amusement and dismay, his nose scrunched up at the (fetid) odor.

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I guess we were duly warned by my Bin’s colleagues at the Singapore office, about the rather cheerless dining experience that is Jamie’s Italian. But after a bout of frenzied shopping at VivoCity mall, hunger pangs need to be tamed.

The eponymous outpost of British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, its 210+ seater space is the complete opposite of Burnt Ends; it feels somewhat like a Friday’s in here. The interiors are engaging but I can’t say the same about our server, he seems puzzlingly lackluster. So, wishing to channel enthusiasm via spirits, I order a Cherry Fizz ($16). It’s sweet with cherry brandy and orange, effervescent with Prosecco, and surprise, there’s a dark cherry swimming at the bottom.

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My Bin and I decide to split the 2-course lunch special ($17.90++). The Crab & Avocado Bruschetta is fairly benign, the supposed addition of chili, apple, mint, and lemon is absent. So we distract ourselves with the prettiness of the plank daubed with twin pastes of avocado and crab.

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The best thing about the Vongole is not the clams or the chili tomatoes that zing in the mouth, but the chewiness of the noodles. Handmade, they’re blessedly chewy and as the Brits say, “moreish.”

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So far this meal is standard, and everything we were told it (wouldn’t ) be. But the absolute downside of this meal is dessert, the Epic Brownie. It’s dangerous to append a superlative to anything, and with a name like that, it better bring it, which it doesn’t. It’s so small, it’s almost like an afterthought, with the preciously arranged – count ‘em – six kernels of caramelized popcorn. The amaretto ice cream is unfortunately icy. We’re told that we’re served the lunch portion and that the regular Epic portion ($11) has another brownie half added. Confounding and planets away from epic.

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One can never go hungry in Singapore’s Changi Airport, but on this trip, my Bin introduces me to what could be my favorite airport restaurant.

Tai Hing hails from Hong Kong, and though it’s part of a chain, it’s maintained its quality. It’s famous for its roast goose and soy chicken but we don’t try those today. As I mention in this entire series, I’ve had laksa on my mind so I zero in on the one Tai Hing offers.

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For a Chinese restaurant, they serve this Malaysian dish very well. It’s a goodly portion ($9) teeming with spicy soup, fishcakes, and egg noodles. My Bin and I share and slurp with gusto.

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The chilled iced milk tea is something that Tai Hing made popular. The glass is served in a bowl of ice in order to chill the drink without dilution. I’m feeling mellow and want the comfort of warmth so I have the Hong Kong-style Hot Milk Tea ($4) instead, milky-perfect and tasting just like the ones I have in Hong Kong.

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Rice Rolls ($4) are common in Chinese restaurants or they should be, but I don’t see them in Manila often. So I order them here at Tai Hing and am overjoyed with their glutinous, sticky texture and sweet char-siew filling. Eaten with the You Tiao (below; $2), savory fried fritters, they’re a fitting end to a restful vacation in Singapore.

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Burnt Ends
20 Teck Lim Road; 65-6224-3933
Reservations are absolutely essential.

Jamie’s Italian
#01-165/166/167 Vivocity Mall
1 Harbourfront Walk 098585

Tai Hing
Changi Airport Singapore
Terminal 2 Departure/Transit Lounge

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