The Coffee Struggle


Starbucks is not my “standard” coffee choice.

Are you surprised? I don’t think so.

In Singapore at least, Starbucks is not the leading coffee provider.

Who is then the top coffee provider in Singapore?

Not a single name crops up, though there are a number of global/regional chains competing in the market place, such as Spinelli or Cedele or Coffee Bean, etc., My favourite coffee maker is Spinelli, but unfortunately they are not omnipresent in Singapore. Coffee Bean comes next, followed by Cedele and then finally, may be Starbucks, if there is no other option.

Why is this the status for the number #1 coffee chain in the world, which is dominant in the U.S. and China and in several other countries? I know that in China, Starbucks is opening a new outlet every 15 hours – yes, you heard it right, every 15 hours. I have been to China many times in the past couple of years, and I have witnessed the fact that the Chinese folks are friendly towards Starbucks, and it is their favourite coffee brew. We even have a new Starbucks outlet in our own office building!

What about the U.K., a close friend of the U.S. where you would normally think and expect that Starbucks would be the #1 coffee shop?

The answer is no, they are not. In fact, I saw that the Brits favour their own coffee chains such as the ever present Caffe Nero coffee chain, Costa Coffee, and of course, the famous Pret A Manger chain. In all these coffee shops, you get good food choices, whereas in Starbucks London outlets, the food choices are bad. One of my ex-colleagues working now in London in fact stated that Starbucks has been fast losing market share in London because of just one fact – they do not offer a variety of food options which the Brits love. If I may add, the Flat White Coffee at Caffe Nero or Costa is far better than the Starbucks factory produced coffee!

Let us now come back to Singapore. Starbucks did not customize its offerings for such a sophisticated market, and that is very surprising. What you get in Singapore is almost exactly the same as what you would get in the U.S. In countries like India, Starbucks learnt its lessons fast, and started offering a variety of local Indian food options along with its expensive range of coffees. But not so in Singapore. The Starbucks coffee is not “strong” enough for the Singaporean palate, which is used to the “Kopi” offered in the local Kopi Tiam coffee shops, which is a strong brew with a variety of variations such as “black without condensed milk”, “regular with condensed milk”, “regular with less sugar”, etc., Singaporeans like their coffee to be very strong – almost dark brown, and I have seen people drinking their bitter coffee which is dark brown with hardly any milk in it. It goes with a variety of foods popularized by local chains such as “Toast Box”, which is one of the most preferred breakfast and coffee places in all of Singapore. I do not like to eat or drink at the Toast Box as it is always super crowded and the coffee is a bit too strong for me! Further, I do not eat the toasted bread with peanut butter that is almost standard fare out here at the Toast Box!! As I mentioned above, I like the Spinelli coffee the most, and sometimes walk into the specialty coffee shops which dot the island, which provide interesting variations to the standard coffee offerings.

While Starbucks is betting on China as its most successful and critical markets for the future (they plan to have 6,000 outlets by 2022), the world does not end in China. There are a whole lot of other countries which are important, though not as big as China market for coffee. However, I am afraid that Starbucks is not reading market needs well, at least in Singapore. In China, I do not have much choice, so I walk into the nearest Starbucks in Beijing or Shanghai, which is probably less than 500 metres away! In Japan, I do have choices for other coffee providers, but invariably there is a Starbucks nearby. However, if you can find it, I would recommend the Blue Bottle Coffee which is amazing.

There are so many options for good coffee anywhere you go, and I am now more tuned towards craft coffee makers, and tend to avoid Starbucks as much as possible. The food options in Starbucks Singapore outlets are not great and do not meet my needs anyway.

So, in a nutshell, if you are a coffee lover, I see no reason why you would spend on a Starbucks coffee when even your own office can probably produce a nice Italian coffee! Not always, and not for every office of course!! The other dimension that you would like to keep in mind (especially during weekends) is that you would find more interesting people in more sophisticated coffee places as compared to Starbucks with people busy on their laptops even during the weekends. If you want to strike a conversation with the barista or the server, then Starbucks is not the place, you would agree with me on that!!!

I bought some excellent coffee from Kenya, Ethiopia and Honduras during my recent trip to London, and more about my experiments with such coffee in my future blog posts.

Cheers, and have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th November 2018

The Leaf Healthy House


We visited this nice little restaurant in the heart of George Town, Penang, yesterday for lunch. Of course, we chose this restaurant based on some recommendations as it suited our preference after some heavy foodie kind of stuff the past couple of days. We wanted something healthy, made of natural ingredients with less or no salt, etc., and my wife found out about this place and we decided to give it a try.

We were not disappointed.

After some 30 minutes of drive from Kek Lok Si Temple, we reached the Little India area of George Town but got lost during the search for The Leaf Healthy House. Finally we found it, hidden somewhat, behind some leaves and shrubs!

It is a nice cosy place with no ostentation. The menu provided lot of details, and each one of us selected different kinds of dishes. I wanted to have some hot tea, so I started with “Rosehip & Hibiscus” Flora/Herbal Tea. It had a nice fragrance but otherwise it was just a hot drink, nothing special though the menu claims it reduces blood pressure and cholesterol. Each food item or drink had a rationale behind it which was fascinating to read, though I am not sure as to the veracity of the claim.

I ordered the following food items for myself:

The Leaf Spaghetti with Basil and Pine Nuts sauce – my rating is “very good” – since I was not feeling full after this small portion of spaghetti, I decided to order another main course which was the “Rainbow Mix Rice” which had brown rice with fibrous burdock root – my rating is “excellent”. I loved this burdock based rice. I also shared some boiled Edamame.

My family members were unanimous in their verdict – this was probably the best vegetarian food that they have had. The ingredients were fresh and natural, the salt content was low or non-existent, the taste was good and the selection of food was fantastic. Even the fruit juice that my wife had was “cold pressed” natural juice which means that no nutrients were lost due to heat, and there was no sugar or the sugar syrup that most other restaurants add to their juice offerings.

I was wondering why such restaurants do not exist in other parts of the world. Given the inclination of younger folks towards health food, this must be a no-brainer. Singapore should be having some place similar, only I haven’t come across it so far.

The food and tea/juice costed approximately SGD 22 for three of us, and we just could not believe it. I should say we briefly bought health for lunch at a throwaway pricing. The food was filling and healthy, and I was not surprised to see the restaurant filling up with office goers and young people at lunch time. We were fortunate to get a place, as were a little early – it is not a big restaurant. They had less than 30 seats.

If you are travelling to Penang, please try to visit this restaurant. You will not regret it.

Enjoy healthy food.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th May 2018

Pistachio Grill


My wife and I decided to check out this Middle Eastern/Mediterranean Restaurant recently. It is a highly rated restaurant as per reviews in Trip Advisor, Yelp, Google, Hungrygowhere and other sites, so we thought we could not go wrong. We had earlier selected this place for the New Year Eve Dinner, but switched to a Turkish Restaurant at the last hour due to some traffic constraints that evening.

This restaurant is located at an unlikely place – a small mall called Zhongshan Mall in Balestier Road, which would not be my choice for such exotic dining. However, we went wrong in two of our key assumptions.

One assumption is that such a highly reviewed restaurant will indeed be good. But Pistachio Grill was not even a restaurant!

Surprising, right?

It takes up a common space on the mall’s first floor, which means that there is no restaurant in the strict sense – it is more like an elegant hawker centre. More than that, they have very limited spaces, being part of a large corridor. Worse, they do not take orders at your table – it was very awkward (and probably, the first time for us) when we were asked to go to the cashier counter, place our order, pay for it, and then return to the table! I have not seen this practice in any restaurant – yes we pay in Coffee Shops in advance, and pick up the coffee, but Pistachio Grill claims to be a restaurant from an exotic land, where gourmet diners will die if they see such an environment. What about changes to the order, or additions to the order – you better get up, go back to the queue, and wait to order/pay. This is nothing short of ridiculous in my mind.

Secondly, they did not have the items on the menu, and offered an equivalent – while I can understand that happens some times, it occurred twice with Pistachio Grill, forcing us to drop food items that we would have enjoyed otherwise.

The service by waiters was just OK, but I do not see the need to pay the Service Charge of 10% when we could have easily picked up the food by ourselves in this restaurant-as-a-service (!!!). Any such restaurant needs to have waiters who are educated in the culture of the cuisine, and explain the items when asked, instead of dropping the menu cards on our table and expecting us to walk up to the cashier counter! Totally laughable!!

No wonder there were always couple of folks trying to get seating, but that is not surprising on a Friday evening and also not surprising when this restaurant (!) has taken up so much of visible space when you come up on the escalator to the first floor.

Well, let us come to the food part. Given the above experience, we were already below our benchmark hunger level. The Moroccan Mint Tea was just horrible with no unique taste or ingredients (just mint) – what is so special about such a tea which the Chef is touting on the menu, like all the other items? The pita bread was just OK, but could have been prepared better. The saving grace was Baba Ghanoush, which my wife said was fine. The chicken item we ordered was dripping with oil, soaked so much in it that we immediately felt so full. The saffron rice was decent, but the quantity was so small in a dish which costs SGD 17.90!

This is not fine Middle Eastern or Mediterranean or Egyptian dining. There are far better places in locations such as Arab Street for enjoying that timeless cuisine. We are going to give a total miss to Pistachio Grill in future, given the abundant choices we have in Singapore. I am totally surprised by the reviewers who seem to have gone overboard with their unstinted praise for this restaurant and its Chef.

Hopefully the restaurant will learn from its mistakes and challenges, and provide a better ambience for its diners coupled with serious quality of food. All the best!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

03 February 2018

 

Fine Dining at a higher level


I had the opportunity to dine at the Mezzaluna European Restaurant on the 65th floor of Lebua State Tower in Bangkok recently. It is supposed to be the highest restaurant in all of Bangkok. Specially transported to the 64th floor first (and then you walk up to the 65th floor) in a rather silent lift populated by very well dressed and groomed diners, the Mezzaluna surprised me with its epicurean delights. There are vegetarian options here, however it is not designed to please my vegetarian friends – they might however, delight themselves by having drinks in the bar on the 64th floor with exotic views of the city and the river all around.

Mezzaluna is a beautifully appointed fine dining restaurant with lots of attention to detail and designed to please the most demanding diners by providing not only an outstanding dining experience but also fine music, great views, and well informed servers who explain the details of each dish with sophistication. This is the first time I dined at a “2 Michelin Stars” restaurant. The Mezzaluna has received numerous awards over the years.

The menu does not have a la carte choices – just today’s Tasting Menu paired with some great (though very expensive) wines. I enjoyed every bit of the exotically designed menu offerings, except, of course one beef item. The rest were mostly sea food and couple of vegetarian dishes. In such restaurants, one cannot expect a plateful of food – it is extremely small portion, however you get 5 or 7 course options.

I tasted some exotic dishes from the tasting menu such as “Pen Shell Scallop”, “Langoustine”, “Dover Sole” and “Chocolate Vacherin” – anyone?

Strongly recommended for those with adventurous spirits, but read each and every menu item carefully so that you understand what you are going to eat and enjoy. I have not spent so much time reading up a food menu and then listening carefully to the waiter for his/her explanation of the particular dish that has just been served. Given that it is Bangkok, one would expect some rather difficult English pronunciation, but not at the Mezzaluna – each and every waiter has been trained thoroughly to keep up with the standard of a world class restaurant.

Yes, Mezzaluna can easily pass off as a high quality, high class, fine-dining restaurant in Paris or New York. Just outstanding. An experience to be relished.

Enjoy!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
26th January 2018

A lot of Cheese


I enjoyed high quality cheese varieties this week at one of the most well-known cheese cafes in Singapore, combined with some real good wines.

The Greenwood Avenue vicinity in Hillcrest Park is one of the best locales of Singapore evoking memories of an European town sans the benefit of a cooler temperature. There are only houses and some low-key shopping area here, but there are also some excellent restaurants, bars and cake shop, and all of it comes with free parking! Long time ago, I used to live not far from this place, and so I am familiar with the location.

The Cheese Artisans is an excellent choice if you are into cheeses. I was (and still am) only used to few varieties of cheeses that are available in the usual supermarkets, and my favourites have been Gouda and Edam. I like peppery, spicy and sometimes, the nutty varietals of cheese. The Cheese Artisans are completely different purveyors of direct-from-farm cheeses all from European farms. They have such a long cheese menu that the jaws drop and the eyes glaze – it is better to ask the waiter to put together a platter of different cheeses – some hard, some soft – and they do a good job based on the taste that you should describe to them before ordering. Walking into the cafe outlet located in Greenwood Avenue is an experience – you can not only look at the wines (many of which I haven’t seen before, but that is almost always the case!), the cheeses, the meats, etc., but also the cheese maturation facility where they store the cheese. I have never seen one before.

Suffice it to say that I relished the cheeses that they chose for me – I liked the blue cheese and the goat cheese as well. Of course, the wines were good too – I enjoyed the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2015 from Marlborough/New Zealand, the Chateau Clinet Ronan by Clinet Bourdeaux 2013, and the famous Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Fay Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. All amazing wines, and to be enjoyed slowly with lots of cheese. You simply cannot go wrong with these wines. The suggestions by the waiters and the chef, as well as the service they provide seem impeccable, and suited to the newly initiated patrons who are just exploring cheeses for the first time in some detail.

The only thing I would suggest to the cafe is to have the right big bottom red wine glasses instead of using the same kind of glasses for both white and red. The red wines taste better with more breathing in a wider wine glass. Further, expensive wines need to be decanted for some 15 minutes before we can realise the full potential of the wine on our palate.

I would suggest that you try out The Cheese Artisans – it is not for the quickie grabs, but for a really leisurely evening play out with lots of talk and slow sampling of finest cheeses and sipping of full-bodied wines, all this will go to make a great evening, especially during these “winter” times that we are having in Singapore – rather “cold” at less than 23 deg C! The impact of climate change is being felt all over South East Asia now, which has been rather unusual. However, it provides a perfect setting for a great cheese adventure while you imagine you are in a farm in Switzerland!!

Have a great weekend, and enjoy your wines responsibly. Do not drink and drive. Avoid driving if you are drinking, like what I did – take a taxi which is the right thing to do (also, do not let another drunk companion drive you home!!!).

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th January 2018

Maharani Ojima


This is the first ever time that I am writing about an Indian restaurant in Tokyo.

I was in Tokyo for better part of last week, and had the opportunity to have dinner with few colleagues at the Maharani Restaurant in Ojima area of Tokyo. The area is located towards the eastern part of Tokyo (some 13 stations away from the famous Shinjuku station on Tokyo’s complex subway system). It is easy to get lost in Tokyo’s Metro and Subways – Shinjuku is an underground city almost, with connections to various parts of Tokyo, and it always amazes me how the Japanese built such incredibly sophisticated underground systems several decades ago. And, couple of things continue to amaze everyone – how efficient the system works all the time (breakdowns are unheard of), and how easy it is to navigate once we understand the system interlinkages. Further, there is not much of noise anywhere, though thousands of commuters are always traversing the stations. One cannot hear loud noises or loud speaking – people move around in almost an eerie silent manner! Their discipline is simply difficult to believe or achieve in other countries (even the developed ones).

Well, let me come back to the restaurant. It is a smallish one, as most Japanese restaurants are, and located in a quiet neighbourhood with many apartments and small shops (it looked to me as though it is some part of Mumbai or Chennai). Not being in the central business area, Ojima is quiet with many old folks walking along the pavements, and some young ones riding their bicycles. Taxis have not changed in Tokyo for ages, with Toyota Crown still dominating the roads (very expensive with minimum fare starting at 410 Yen or USD 3.70, and accelerating fast as you cruise in search of your destination). I saw far less taxis in Ojima, and it is well covered by the subway.

There was no one in the restaurant when we reached it at around 6:30 PM. We ordered Rotis, Bhindi Masala, Dhal Tadka, Chicken Biriyani, Roasted Papads, and Raita. All items were well prepared and delicious. Of course, we ordered Kirin Beer which went well with the spicy Indian food. Our Japanese colleague enjoyed the food, and I asked him whether it was the first time for him at this place. He replied saying that he had been to this restaurant many times, and every time he had always relished the food. In fact, like in many developed countries, the restaurant menu displayed the severity of the spiciness of each item on the menu, and my Japanese colleague selected either a 4 or a 3 out of 5! I like Japanese food – especially the Sushi and Sashimi (yes raw fish), and also their unique Rice with the Chicken Gravy (called “Curry Udon”), and of course the Tempura Set. Mostly it is bland, except for the masala gravy on the Curry Udon, but it is pure and tasty. So, I always appreciate when a foreigner enjoys Indian food!

Though the Maharani Restaurant is small and the ambience probably gets only a 3 Star, the service is outstanding and rates a 5 Star. All the Indian staff and the Chef speak fluent Japanese (and of course, Hindi). They strive to make the patrons very comfortable with a polite conversation and smile all the time. They engage in some small talk with the Indian patrons.

The food and service are of high quality and I do not have hesitation in suggesting this place for a lunch or dinner. It costs approximately between USD 20 to 35 per head depending on the items ordered, and could be more in case one orders Sake or Whiskey.

That is my experience of Tokyo last week, though I had the usual business cocktails and dinners in 5 Star hotels. However, it might get boring as it is more of the same all the time, in most cities. The unique local experiences define the feeling for a place that one develops over time. Like the “Blue Bottle Coffee” that I had in the Roppongi business district – amazing coffee which would make you not to venture into a Starbucks again! And stories go on like that……..the world is fascinating if only we can get out there, not fixated on our laptops or smartphones. Talk to the people around – for example, I engaged in a brief conversation with a Blue Bottle employee, and it reveals another side of human life that we are totally unaware of!!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th October 2017

Coda Di Volpe Review


We celebrated my wife’s birthday at Coda Di Volpe Southern Italian Restaurant located in the Lakeview area on Southport Avenue of Chicago last evening.

It was a fabulous choice with a very attentive service staff and fantastic food. Our family always loved Italian food, but we have not experimented that much with Southern Italian food with its distinctive flavours and superb taste. This was probably the first time that we delved deep into that cuisine, I would say.

I did not drink wine during the dinner (is that not very surprising), but my wife and daughter tried a Pinot Noir, the Terre Nere Nerello Mascalese 2015, which they said was excellent.

Our selection of dishes was amazing – for appetizers we selected the Bruschetta di Burrata (the puglian Burrata cheese is rather enticing) and Vegetable Antipasti. The Antipasti comprised of marinated black and green olives, pickled veggies, eggplant and grilled summer squash – a great choice for wine drinkers, I would say.

For the main course, we ordered two pizzas and two kinds of pastas. The pizzas were Quattro Formaggi and Funghi – both vegetarian, and the pastas were Bucatini Pomodoro and Ricotta Gnocchetti, again both vegetarian. All were outstanding – flavourful, tasty, and healthy. I loved the Funghi Pizza which had roasted mushrooms (I have always love mushrooms), cherry tomatoes, mustard greens, garlic, oregano, fior di latte cheese, and pecorino blue cheese. My son went for Chicken Diavola which he said was very good as well.

Since this was a surprise dinner ahead of the actual birthday, my family arranged with the chef for bringing out a nice cake at the end of the dinner with a candle on it, and my wife was very close to guessing it. However, before any further deliberations, the cake arrived, with again a detailed explanation of the constituents of the cake by the senior service staff member who attended to us throughout the dinner. This is a big difference from anywhere else – knowing that most of the clientele are not well versed with the unique characteristics of the exotic food from Southern Italy, the service staff are trained to explain every nuance of all the dishes in great detail. I believe that such explanations go to serve a greater understanding of what we were having for dinner, and develop a keen sense of appreciation for specific food choices. The knowledge of food makes us wiser when suggesting restaurants or food types to our guests – be it in corporate or private setting.

Overall, Coda Di Volpe was an excellent restaurant with great service. If I have to call out one deficiency, it was the portion size for Pastas – too small for one person I should say. This forces people to order the bigger portion, which is probably the right size for one person!

I would strongly recommend this restaurant to all Italian food lovers.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th June 2017

Dallas Food


On the first day of our visit to Dallas, we wanted to try out Indian food (this is the default choice when there is a group of Indians trying to explore the local culinary scene, I am sure you can believe this!). We asked the concierge at our hotel, and he said that there is only one in the downtown area within walking distance and so we set out to discover how Indian food is faring in the heart of downtown Dallas.

We went to “Spice in The City Dallas” on Commerce Street. The restaurant looked stylish and different from the regular run-of-the-mill Indian restaurants. It looked like a fine dining restaurant from the outside surrounded by office blocks.

We were hungry and did not waste time exploring the whole menu. We ordered Papad Basket, Saag Paneer, Vegetable Korma, Yellow Lentil Dhal, and Garlic Naans. We were surprised and disappointed when the dishes arrived at our table.

The Papads were extremely oily (dripping with old oil). None of the dishes were tasty and each one of them lacked even little amount of salt or spice or chilli. The dhal was a huge disappointment with the lentils individually sticking out of the bowl with no creamy hold on the dhal surface providing an even taste. The korma was messy. The naans were actually thick flatbreads. Overall, it was a bad lunch. I don’t understand how Trip Advisor and Yelp could have given such positive ratings. We later told our colleagues to give this restaurant a miss.

On the other hand, our experience at Cafe Herrera and Meso Maya, both serving Mexican food in downtown Dallas, was very good – the food was excellent, the service was great, and the menus were comprehensive. Mexican food is a good alternative to folks seeking spicy food, and we were not disappointed. The only challenge is that the wrong choice of sauces could send you scattering looking for an exit, so be very careful when you insist on spicy sauce for the Mexican main course. It could simply stun you out of your senses. There is nothing like that in Indian or Chinese food.

We thought the hotel food (at the hotel where we were staying in downtown) may not be great, but we were surprised to see a fantastic breakfast spread for USD 15 (cold) and USD 22 (hot). There were some unhealthy offerings at the breakfast, but then most of the choices were good – like the amazing variety of expensive fruits for example, hot potatoes with red skin, hot medley of vegetables with lots of onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, scrambled eggs, omelettes made to order, a variety of breads, nuts, yoghurt, etc.,

Dallas is a great place for Mexican food – of course, I have not tried much of the other foods that Dallas offers, but my guess is that Dallas specializes in Mexican.

One of our colleagues had brought MTR fast food from Singapore, and so we tried that food in our hotel room late into night along with some drinks, and that was an outstanding experience as well.

It was good to be back in Dallas after a gap of two years.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

Rose Latte


My readers have come to expect atleast one weighty topic of global importance every weekend. I usually like writing about topics which are of public importance in a global sense. Of course, I also love writing about my wines and sundry things that I have accomplished in my life. Life is interesting if we set out to make it more colourful in a passionate way. I try to do that occasionally, and nowadays more often than not.

I read about this new Cafe in Changi Village called “Chock Full of Beans” which serves unique lattes with 3D art and a rose latte. I was intrigued. What is a rose latte and why haven’t I heard of it till now, not seen it at any of the myriad coffee shops that I have patronized for so long?

So I decided to check it out. My wife and I drove 25 KMs to reach Changi Village (I have been to this place only twice in the past so far) – probably considered as a “long distance” drive in Singapore! On the way back, we drove nearly 30 KMs. All just to have a latte? Looks like, right?

Well, we reached Changi Village with all its limited parking availability, and were lucky to find one just opposite to the block housing the Cafe. There was a lot of people milling around due to the ferry terminal just next door, though the vehicular traffic was light. We located the Chock Full of Beans Cafe, which was not crowded at 4:45 PM, though one would expect it to be. Later I found the reason – there were a series of cafes around the place, and many local eateries wherein one can get coffee for SGD 1.80. Further, had Chock Full of Beans were not covered in the newspaper, I would not have discovered it. My guess is many people don’t know about such cafes, and even if they do, would find it difficult to traverse the distance for just having a coffee.

Now, let us look at the real product offering. Of course, we came for Rose Latte and so we ordered the hot one after engaging in a conversation with the waiter on which is better – hot or cold, and which one is more preferred. The answer was typical – 50:50! We also ordered some truffle fries so that we can check out how they are in the food department. We did not try anything else from their Western Food Menu (you can view the same at CHOCK FULL OF BEANS), so we cannot comment on their overall food quality.

It took a long while to get even the coffee (more than 10 minutes), which is fine with us, as were anyway chatting about everything under the sun and what was going on around us. We noticed that there were several restaurants across the road in the opposite block – a French restaurant (!) and an Indian one with “Shalom” written on their banner outside (!!). I did not see any ferry travellers in the Cafe. I told my wife that travellers will usually be in a rush to get on to their ferry, and upon returning will rush back home, so it is unlikely that they walk around looking for coffee with their luggage.

Th Rose Latte finally arrived. My wife liked the rose petals floating on the coffee and the bunny pic on the face of the coffee. The Cafe would do 3D art on the coffee provided they get adequate time to do the art work. The coffee smelled nice, and tasted fine with the rose essence emanating from it. My wife liked it, but then she asked me to finish it off as she could not take a lot of it. As we had originally asked for very less sugar, it was fine with me, though I don’t understand why almost all cafes deliver the lattes at lower temperatures – my wife says that they mix cold milk instead of hot milk like what we do at home. So, if you order latte, ask the cafe to deliver it real hot. I would give only a passing grade to their Rose Latte, may be 3.5 out of 5.0, so there was some disappointment in my face.

The truffle fries were a bigger disappointment. The quality was not great, and the quantity was small for the price they were charging. Truffle fries usually are more expensive than the normal fries due to the cheese, but I have had far better quality and quantity at similar prices in the town itself. So, on this count as well I have to state that the cafe quality was average.

Overall, it was OK to have travelled more than 50 KMs in all to have a coffee; the question is, what else can we do in Singapore and how to optimize available time. One has to try out new things which crop up, and one has to express what one thinks in a blog post like this!

Thanks for reading a not so great post about an average experience. Let me look for better experiences.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th May 2017

Turf City Experience


After more than a decade, we visited the Turf City in the Bukit Timah area of Singapore recently, to explore the place and have something to eat of course, in the true tradition of Singaporeans.

We (my wife and I) were amazed to find that the exterior of the place has not changed at all, given that most places in Singapore have undergone substantial change over the past decade or so. Singapore is an ever-changing city, with constant innovation driving its urban landscape. But Turf City is a rather remote location off Bukit Timah with a huge car mart and open parking space (there is no charge for parking here!), connected to the grandstand building.

We parked and walked into the grandstand – there were not many people to be seen though there were hundreds of cars parked. The restaurants were not packed. Few people were walking along the corridors. We walked up and down a couple of times but missed out the PasarBella (Singapore’s first Farmers’ Market) in the first couple of rounds. I did not want to have Indian food, and so we went for Thai food at the Grandstand.

The Thai food place was a wrong selection (now I know the importance of research!). Apart from the crispy bean curd which was fine, the rest of what we ordered was not at all compatible with our usual expectations of Thai restaurant offerings in Singapore. The Thai Fried rice and Green Curry were lousy. There was nothing spicy about the green curry, it was sweet and lacked the essence of Thai cooking. The fried rice was dull with no kick of chillies – there was no point in ordering such stuff, and I guess the rest of their menu items would equally be of poor quality. The service was bad – I had to keep my hand raised for quite some time and multiple times before one of the waiters would notice – they looked totally oblivious to their patrons’ needs. The way the restaurant was organized in its interior, they could not see us also.

In a nutshell, this Thai restaurant was an avoidable experience.

We were obviously upset, and decided go for desserts in another place. We walked around, and found the PasarBella. It was a delightful place, very unique and unlike any we have seen in Singapore. It looked very Western, with multiple small booths offering a variety of food – Mexican, Thai, local fare, etc., There were several wine shops, cheese places, and bakeries. We thought we should have come to this place to start with!

We ended up at Laman’s Delight, a Russian Bakery with some exotic cakes. The owner, Laman, told us she is from Azerbeijan. That is somewhere near Russia, for the geographically challenged folks. I am yet to locate it on the world map, I only know (now) that it is in Europe.

We ordered two of her chocolate-infused cakes, one of them was with Bailey’s Irish Cream. These are not very sweet cakes, but they absolutely have a solid strong charater to them in respect of their flavours, looks, and size. Yes, the Russian size – rather big sized cake slices. The liqueur-infused cake was marathon – I told my wife it will take us not less than 3 days to finish it!

Laman’s cakes are not cheap – these are big cakes, with some fresh ingredients and original knowhow from Mother Russia and Azerbeijan. Cannot be inexpensive, but I was a bit taken aback with the bill, I should say. However, it was worth it – never had Russian cakes in Singapore, so it is indeed a novelty.

There were many other places to see around in PasarBella, so we decided to come again one of the weekends to further explore. Our view is that there are indeed some excellent choices for an evening out there, and the setting attracted us – it is indeed very unique in this urban city of ours.

Try it!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th August 2016