Category Archives: Restaurants

Where to eat? How’s the food?

Katong district, Singapore

I never expected that I will really enjoy my overnight stay in Singapore. It was a stopover transit on my way back to Melbourne. I did some research on the hotels nearest to the Changi Airport and came across Village Hotel Katong. My requirements are simple – hotel must be nice and clean at a reasonable price and walking distance to shops and food outlets. Everything else doesn’t matter as it is only an overnight stay.

On arrival at Village Hotel Katong, it was more than I expected. The hotel is new. The lobby area is welcoming. The Front Desk staff friendly and efficient. I was offered an upgrade to the club package which includes the use of the club lounge, breakfast and a gorgeous large room with a free standing egg shell bath tub in the living area of the bedroom. All these perks at an extra Singapore $50.

After check in and settling into my room, I freshen up a bit, went to check the club lounge and hotel facilities. Then, went for a walk along the main road, East Coast Road, in search of something to eat. There are a number of modern cafes, restaurants, open bars and a handful of traditional shops, including one which will stay with me for a long time. This one, with a big signage “Glory Catering”, has a selection of homemade nyonya kuih on a stand in front of the shop. Behind the stand is the Poh Piah station and the main food counter selling a range of Indonesian nasi padang curry dishes, noodle dishes from mee siam to mee rebus and nyonya laksa. Everything looks delicious. I settled for a bowl of “mee rebus”, which I haven’t had for many, many years. I also ordered one serve of poh piah. Drink a homemade barley as a cooling drink. I knew the food will be good as I stepped into the restaurant. It’s raw and authentic. It is nothing like one of the modern establishments down the road. But, what I didn’t expect was that the food and drink I had were more than just good. They were much, much better than I expected! If I were to live in Singapore, I would have to go back again and again to eat at this place, or to take home some of the poh piah to snack. The nyonya kuih were delicious too, which I had to take away 2 slices to try. The food and drink cost Singapore $8.20 and the two pieces of kuih cost Singapore $1.20. Unbelievable. I never knew such good food and price still exist in Singapore. As I left, I had to tell the “uncle” and “auntie” that I really enjoyed the food. The uncle who was making the poh piah was well dressed. He told me that he has been making the food for over 40 years! It looks like a family establishment that has been passed down a few generations because the taste and flavour are very authentic.


















I am impressed with Katong district. Walking around the neighbourhood streets is interesting. They are clean and green, beautiful “peranakan” terrace houses and bungalow houses. The area looks wealthy. It is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of glitzy Singapore city.

In the evening, I walked a bit further and came across “Joo Chiak Road” which is a long stretch of road dotted with bars, karaoke nightclubs, restaurants and and Indian’s grocer! This is old and new Singapore. There were a number of expatriates drinking at some of the open bars. The karaoke nightclubs are completely “black out” on the outside. They looked sleazy.

I had a simple traditional Chinese open air restaurant serving a range of dishes. It was a nice and simple dinner that cost only Singapore $6.50 and the barley drink $1. Singapore is affordable if one lives outside the city.











Tok Tok ala Talk Talk

That is the name of the place. A catchy phrase, pop culture or just hip and trendy…probably all in one. It is an unassuming place in a standard block building in a suburb surrounded by other shop lots of food eating places in a residential neighbourhood in the southeast of Penang island. This trendy, rustic and arty place with a wine bar that looks something like a western movie set “saloon bar” would be more suited for the old part of George Town in the city amongst the boutique hotels, galleries and cafes.P1160325P1160305
The place started off as “Tok Tok”, a small single shop lot café of fusion style food with a Thai-Chinese crossed Nyonya local Penang fare. It was last year when I first stumbled upon this place with my partner, my mum and sister. We frequented that area for the food at a Chinese restaurant, “Wang Chao“. But it was shut and we decided to try “Tok Tok” which was a couple of shop lots from Wang Chao. I had good memory of the place, the food and the service.

This morning I caught up with my mum and sis for an early breakfast. After a local Penang all time street favourite, “Char Koay Teow”, I went for a walk around mum’s local wet market. It was a small market but each individual stalls was a delight to look at from fresh poultry to fishmongers, fresh flowers, vegetables and herbs, fruits, wet and dried spices, fresh grated coconuts, cream, milk, organic food, snacks, biscuits, Taoism religious and prayer matters. I was tempted to buy a few things. In my mind – fresh grated coconuts, coconut milk, ready mixed wet chilli and curry pastes, fresh turmeric, fresh tofu…the list goes on. But wait! I can’t take them home to Australia. I opted for something less to satisfy my urge – a packet of organic red rice and “sugar cane” sugar. I was thinking of the organic cold pressed coconut oil, but remembered that I am going home with only a hand carry bag. No check in luggage!

After a whirlwind of wet market, I told mum that I will take her and sis out for dinner tonight. It was her idea that we go back to Tok Tok, because she remembers that I enjoyed the food the last time. For a 78 years old lady, she has a better memory than me!

Tok Tok is the sound of “tok tok mee” or wanton mee. “mee” is “noodle” in the local Penang dialect, Hokkien. A memory flashed back to old Penang. There was a street vendor who pushed his cart in the neighbourhood selling his wanton noodle by making a distinctive “tok tok” noise by banging a pair of bamboo sticks on the surface of his cart. This was to let the people know that he is getting near to their home. I remember hearing this “tok tok” noise and will yell out to mum that the wanton man is here! How easy was that? The food came to your doorstep in the old days. Even a wondering Indian Barber with his high chair wooden stool!

The modern day “Tok Tok” at Bangunan Lip Sin at the Pekaka neighbourhood is nothing like the old “tok tok” days. There is a generous size ala carte menu with some Penang famous street food fare including as you would expect, “Tok Tok Mee”, Nasi Lemak, Siam Laksa, Lor Bak, Sang Mee and others. There is rice dishes which focus mostly on Thai and Nyonya dishes. We ordered dishes to accompany with rice – Loh Bak as entrée, a salted vegetable with tofu soup “Kiam Chai Tau Hu Teng”, deep fried Siam chicken, Pattaya fried rice and mixed vegetables. For drink we ordered a homemade warm beancurd drink.P1160274

After we have ordered, I looked around the place which has now been extended into 2 other shop lots next to each other. The immediate left shop is “Talk Talk” wine bar featuring a live jazz band on a weekend. Next to this is a more relax coffee lounge. All three are interconnected inside. There are opened atrium upper floor seatings. The place is hip, trendy and cool. I would love to come back next time to listen to some live music.P1160278




The food…they were delicious! The only let down for me was the Loh Bak. It was better the first time I tried it last year. I don’t believed they were freshly made tonight. They were hard and overcooked. Probably been deep fried a few times. They were served on a bed of very old lettuces.P1160304 It was not a good start when it first came on the table. But I was very glad that the rest of the dishes were top notched! They were very good. The highlight was the finger licking good crispy and crunchy chicken and yet moist and tender inside. One of the best deep fried chicken I ever had for a long time.P1160312 Next was the nyonya style “Kiam Chai Tahu Teng” ie the salted preserved vegetable soup with silken tofu. It arrived in a steamy, bubbling hot claypot with heaps of fried garlic on top giving the soup a nice all round flavour. It was salty, sweet and tangy with slivers of fresh ginger in the broth.P1160308. The mixed vegetables and Pattaya fried rice were also very good. I must say I have ordered too much for 3 of us, but like most places they allowed us to take home what we couldn’t finished.P1160319


P1160313 The food was a bit pricey in the area. The total bill came to $115 Malaysian Ringgit but still a very good value for what I couldn’t get in Australia, roughly $40 Australian dollar.

The other thing that impressed me was the commercial kitchen. It is enclosed in glass wall as you walked to the toilet. It is like a showroom which you can watch the kitchen in action – well organised and clean.P1160307 I gave the “Auntie” who cooked our meal two thumbs up for her food.

“Tok Tok” and “Talk Talk” is certainly the talk of the town in Pekaka and the surrounding suburbs. If you haven’t been there yet, I suggest you better go for “Auntie” homecooked meal. There is nothing pretentious and she was a bit shy if you try and snap a photo of her through the glass wall.P1160322

Nona Bali

It has been awhile since I have written about a restaurant and its food. I guess I haven’t been to one that tick all the boxes – the food, the service, the price and the location.

Two days ago, a couple of our new friends introduced us to a Balinese restaurant in Penang. They are food lovers and told us there is a very good balinese restaurant. They took us there. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Always keep an open mind and expected the unexpected. Be surprised. I told myself that we are in good hands and our friends know and love their food. So, they better not be wrong! We arrived at the restaurant for lunch. It is located in a new seafront promenade facing the channel and mainland. The location is ideal with light sea breezes. It was a Saturday afternoon slightly after 1pm. The area was quiet and peaceful without much traffic, being a few years old. It is mostly residential with new high rise condominiums and townhouses and shop lots. Not all the shops were occupied. I felt at bliss.P1150950


P1150948Our friend parked his car just a few metres from the restaurant. The front of the restaurant was decked with potted plants, red balinese umbrellas on both side of the entrance and some red Chinese New Year’s decorative items for prosperity and good luck. That is a good sign of a welcoming restaurant. P1150951P1150946 On entering Nona Bali, it was even more impressive. It is well decorated with colourful pictures on the wall and balinese fabric sliding panels above the bar/front counter. The colour scheme was charcoal black on all walls and ceiling with matching lighter beige tone wooden tables and chairs. It is the sort of place that I would see in Melbourne, but in Penang, it definitely has style and class but yet casual.P1150934


P1150932There is a lunch special between $20 rinngit to $24 ringgit. The lunch menu is a “nasi campur” which means mixed rice. It is the best way of trying out different dishes on one plate with some rice. I ordered the version with fish and partner ordered the chicken version. Our friends ordered a fish version and a fried rice version. The food came with a refreshing drink of either an iced peach drink or iced lime drink. I have to say when the food came, I was very impressed on how the dishes were plated with the cone-shaped rice in the middle.P1150927

P1150925 Now for the taste. It was delicious. The pan fried mackerel fish on top of a spread of spicy sambal was delicious. I love a real kick to a hot sambal. It was spicy and I couldn’t get enough and had to ask for more sambal. The grilled mackerel fish paste wrapped around the lemongrass stick was smooth and aromatic with a nice zestic flavour. The slice of cucumber and tomato help to tone down the spiciness of the sambal. The soup was tangy with dried shrimp and dried shallots. The blanched green topped with red skin peanut sambal chilli gave a nice crunch and texture to the overall “nasi campur”. The serving size was just right and sufficient for a nice afternoon lunch. Topping up the whole experience at Nona Bali is the gracious host, Peter, who is charming and charismatic, who is passionate about his restaurant. He talks about his satay cart outside the front of the restaurant, with some seatings, which we all agree will be a nice addition to the whole character of the restaurant. I really look forward to come back to Nona Bali again. A great addition to the food and culinary scene of Penang. P1150939

Nona Bali is located at 25Grd Flr, Lebuh Sungai Pinang 5, 11600 Penang, Malaysia. Phone number 04-281 5983. Website address

MART 130 Cafe

MART or “TRAM” (with the “R” other way round if placed on the side of a mirror)…that’s the name of this wonderful and well tucked away little cafe in Middle Park, 4km south of Melbourne CBD on Tram Stop 130. Hence, the eccentric name of this rustic and quaint cafe in the leafy suburb called MART 130 Cafe.Image 

We happened to come across this cafe a couple of weeks ago when I decided that my partner and I should take Tram 96 to St Kilda Beach for an alternate route to our usual Tram 112 at a tram stop in Clarendon Street Southbank, a short 10 minutes walk from our place. It was a good decision. Otherwise we would not have found this popular cafe.

So this morning we were wondering where to go for brunch. Our usual fare is a bowl of Vietnamese Pho at Footscray or Yum Cha at Docklands on a Sunday. I suggested that we try something different, which is a rare occasion as we prefer Asian brunch to a Western brunch.  It was a good decision, as we both thoroughly enjoyed our meal at the cafe, and food that we are happy to pay for.

It has a nostalgic feel to the place. A destination that we can get off the tram right at the door step of the cafe – it’s almost too good to be true like in a movie set. It is a choice of destination for any food lover who enjoy a good breakfast, brunch or lunch. The experience of having the tram railway track on one side of the building and the other side fronting a park surrounded by trees and shrubs with people walking their dogs has just the right ambience to calm any weary and hungry souls with a wholesome good food and friendly service.P1140445P1140425P1140431P1140432P1140435When we arrived at tram stop 130, the cafe was busy with people waiting outside. But we were lucky to get 2 seats at the back section of the cafe overlooking the park. It is ideal as I think it will be noisy inside the cafe but interesting to watch the staff in actions. The front part of the cafe next to the tram tracks will be nice on a quiet time. But, I think the premium seats have to be in the back where we were.

We ordered an organic large orange juice ($5) and a pot of ceylon tea ($3.50) for drink, and baked braised of chorizo with poached eggs ($18.50) and bacon, potato and spinach with hollandaise poached eggs ($18.50) for food. P1140439P1140440

The ceylon tea came in an old rustic pale white with blue trimmed enamel tea pot, adding to the rustic charm of this tram station cafe. P1140438The food was very good. The eggs were perfectly poached – smooth and round, firm yet soft and the yolk was soft and not runny on the braised chorizo in tomato sauce spiced with grounded paprika and melted cheese. It was a real hearty meal. P1140442This is a meal that is worth paying for. Paid $50 with a small change of $4.20. It is more expansive than our usual fare of Sunday Asian brunch, but we both left feeling very satisfied and happy that we will definitely return again. After all, it is only a few tram stops from where we live. A track reserved only for Tram 96.P1140444P1140449Our tram has arrived. Time to hop on and touch on the Myki card for a $3.50 whole day fare on a weekend, which will increase to $6 starting next year 2014.

Burma Lane

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the name “Burma Lane” is a small road in George Town, Penang. It is a popular destination with tourists and local Buddhist worshippers. There is the historical Burmese temple built in the 1800s called Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple and the Penang Reclining Buddha Temple, a Thai temple directly across the Dhammikarama Burmese temple.  Wat Chayamangkalaram Thai Buddhist Temple or more famously known in the Penang as the Reclining Buddha Temple is a Thai temple built after the Burmese temple in the late 1800s.

Flashback to my present time. Here in Melbourne.

When I came across a place with a shopfront sign “Burma Lane” as I was walking down a Melbourne lane way – Alfred Place – from Collins Street I was curious to find out what it is. The shop was directly across a T-junction at the end of Alfred Place and Little Collins Street. It was set a bit elevated from the street level. I had to stretch my neck slightly to see what’s inside through the glass wall. That was 4 weeks ago. It looked interesting and stylish with hanging lanterns. It doesn’t take much to guess it is going to be a new restaurant. A modern take on the Burmese food – a less known South East Asian cuisine in Melbourne, unlike Thai and Vietnamese. There is a website – I stood in front of the shop with my iPhone handy in my hand started punching in the web address. There was not much at the time. The website was launched but only with a front page advertising the name and a special soft opening promotion by registering online – a 50% discount on the food.  It didn’t take me long to register my interest and “Like” their FB page. Crazy but it’s true! I bet there are a lot of food bloggers still didn’t know about this latest restaurant in Melbourne.

3 weeks later, I received an email from the restaurant announcing their soft opening date on Monday 11th November. To redeem the promotion voucher, it needs to be used during their soft opening. So my partner and I went there last night for dinner. We were there for a 7pm dinner. I was expecting the place to be packed. But it wasn’t. Probably still early.

On entering the restaurant, there was a lot to take in. It has a large open atrium dining space with soaring high ceilings to the second level and hanging lanterns and streams of down lights. A stylish renovation with glass wall on one side with beautiful framed pictures and the other side a concrete wall with a large painted portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, where a flight of stairs lead to the second floor dining area. The place is dark and stylish with very loud music to create the ambience of a latest and hype Melbournian restaurant.

We were given a table upstairs which is quieter for dining couples. At the far end of the room was a row of tables set up only for two people. I thought that was a nice thought. The menu was just right. Not too extensive and not too small. It was printed on an A3 size white paper used as a table mat with a round brown glazed dining plate set on top.P1140228

The menus is easy to read and sectioned into Small Bites, Salad, Noodles, Bigger Bites and Desserts. The description on each of the dishes is simple to understand, making it easier to choose and order. We chose a couple of Small Bites – Kun Sar Thi and Soft Shell Crab, Salad – Rakhine style shredded chicken salad with banana flowers, Bigger Bites – Mohinga Rockling and Goat Curry. Drinks – my partner ordered a Sample Pale Ale to start with and a couple of red wine by the glass. I had a cocktail – Thai Dai, which has kaffir lime leaves infused into the drink.

I have never been to Burma so I can’t really say that I know anything about a Burmese food. However, Burma Lane impresses me. The food was good. It was  delicate and subtle in flavours. The dishes were presented well, except for the soft shell crab which was our least favourite. The idea of having 3 side condiments to accompany the food was great – from a mild, sweet chilli paste to the traditional “balachaung” – the Burmese dried shrimp relish. I was really surprised with the taste and texture of the balachaung, which is similar to how my mum would have made it at home. Interesting as Burma and Penang are thousands of kilometres apart with the Thai borders in between. I can only guess that during the spice trade in the 1700s, the Burmese came and settled in Penang and brought their culture and food (and also built the only one and oldest Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Burma Lane, Penang). The Penang version of balachaung is a nonya take on the balachaung called “sambal har bee” which is a spicier version. It is a popular accompaniment with rice or spread over a white bread and folded into a sandwich. Sadly to say, this dried spicy relish is slowing disappearing from the culinary food scene in Penang. P1140235

Our favourite dish at Burma Lane was the Goat Curry with pumpkin. The gravy was rich, thick and mildly spiced. The goat meat was tender. P1140241My next favourite dish for the night was the chicken wrapped in betel leaf. The chicken was mixed through with shallots, green mango and lightly spiced with sichuan pepper. It went well with the 3 different types of side condiments. I ate the mixture wrapped in a single betel leaf and in one mouthful to get the full impact of the different texture and flavour in one bite. It was very nice.P1140237The shredded chicken salad with banana flower was simple and delicate in flavour. I would have prefer to taste more of the banana flower but there wasn’t much of that. P1140238The Rockling in a mild turmeric and lemongrass based gravy was light and a bit strong on the turmeric after taste. It was accompanied by some vermicelli noodles, hard boiled eggs and the preserved asian mustard green. I thought the fish was a bit overcooked and tough.P1140240One thing that I have found with the food was that it was not overly sweet, salty and spicy. That is good as the food should focus on each of the different produces that come together to give the flavour, texture and uniqueness on each of the dishes. I hate it when a dish is over seasoned with too much sugar and salt which kills the goodness of the delicate flavour of a fresh ingredient.


I can’t help but to compare Burma Lane with Chin Chin – similar in food style and restaurant concept. Burma Lane has larger rooms, feels less cramped, less crowded and less noise. It is nicer to dine at Burma Lane without feeling like you have to yell to have a conversation. Food wise, they are quite different depending on taste. Burma Lane dishes are on a subtle and less complex side whereas Chin Chin delivers a big punch to the taste and flavours. Personally I love the food at Chin Chin but I prefer the ambience and classier feel of Burma Lane.

My Last Hour in Singapore

How would you spend your last hour in a hotel before rushing to the airport, bus or train station for that next leg of the journey? Most travellers will leave their packing to the last hour. What if the hotel granted you a late checkout at 1 pm? That means, you have some extra time. Most travellers, like me, hate rushing to check out by 10 am. I always ask for a late check out – an extra hour or two helps.

In an earlier post, I wrote about how I spent my last morning in Singapore. After a nice long walk, I had my shower and packed my luggage. I took my time. The hotel granted my request for a 1:30 pm late check out. I even have time to write that last post while I was still in my room. I have another two hours to kill. After reading a comment posted by a friend of mine – Mr Dillon in Facebook – a passionate food lover and a great cook, he was sharing his “foodie” experience eating Hainanese chicken rice at Purvis Street.

Purvis Street is only 2 blocks or a 5 minutes walk from the Fairmont Hotel. I have walked past the street but not along the street. I didn’t realised there are some eating places along Purvis street, and that there are a couple of places specialising in Hainanese-style Chicken Rice. I am always a big fan of Hainanese chicken rice. I have heard so much that the Singaporean version is better than the Malaysian version. And, I think they are right. I have tried one stall a few years ago in Chinatown at the famed Maxwell Road Food Court. It was the best chicken rice I have ever had and I still remember that very moment at the Tian Tian Chicken Rice stand.P1130230I found one of the chicken rice cafe, “Chin Chin Eating House”. It looks popular and busy with local Singaporeans. There was a menu with a few Hainan-style dishes. I ordered a mixture of “white chicken” and roasted chicken. The white chicken is actually a poached chicken. Once cooked, it is blanched in ice water to create the jelly like skin finishing, giving it a nice and silky smooth texture. I ordered a Hainan- style mixed vegetables – cabbage, black fungus, button mushroom, glass noodles and bean curd skin. The side condiments on the table include freshly grated ginger and chilli sauce. They go hand in hand and best eaten with the rice and chicken to get the full punch in the mouth!P1130226 P1130221 P1130220 P1130218 P1130217Next door to Chin Chin is another Chicken Rice cafe – YY Cafe, at the corner of Purvis Street and Ocean Road. I ate at YY for lunch a day before. Both YY and Chin Chin are good. There wasn’t much “white chicken” in my plate at Chin Chin, which made it hard to compare with YY. The “white chicken” at YY was lovely, silky smooth and tasty. But, the rice at Chin Chin was probably better which was loose by the grains, fluffy and oily as should be. The extra condiment of freshly grated ginger delivered a wholesome experience of a complete chicken rice dish with full, rounded and robust flavour. And, the Hainan style mixed vegetable was delightful.P1120952 P1130229After my chicken rice lunch at Chin Chin, I made my way back to the hotel with a side detour. I stopped at The Raffles, which was directly across from the Fairmont Hotel. I leisurely  strolled through the opulent hotel’s retail shops and internal courtyard.P1130257 P1130256 P1130239P1130244A great contrast to the outside world of The Raffles was a block of flat with hanging laundries from some of the units. This was a rare sighting – reminiscent of the bygone era when flat was built with no space for drying clothes. Hence, the long bamboo pole protruding from a window of the unit. It makes a colourful change from the otherwise sterile and clean Singapore.P1130234

Singapore by Night

Singapore by Night – that is what Singapore is good at. Showing off her buildings, river and harbour with glistening lights shimmering from afar with jaw dropping architectural glassed buildings soaring into the sky.

My plan was to go to the Chinatown for a bit of exploration – being the Autumn Festival (a.k.a the Mooncake Festival) and Hungry Ghost Festival, I was hoping to see some interesting lanterns, mock up stage with Chinese opera and altar worshipping the hungry spirits roaming around the streets. That was what I expect to experience in the Chinatown. This, unfortunately, did not happened on my last night in Singapore. But not a great deal and not missed as I have already been to Singapore’s Chinatown a couple of years ago and knew what it was like. I was only hoping to see if they put up a good show for the 2 festivals.

I left my hotel about six-ish to catch the SIA Hop-on tourist bus. It was still light when I waited for the bus. It was a long wait. By the time I got onto the bus, it was starting to get dark. The bus crossed an old heritage bridge on South Beach Road. The view along the river was breathtaking with a row of colourful neon shop signs   – bars and restaurants, and a view of the business district. I decided a detour and disembarked from the bus to explore the riverfront restaurants.P1120962There was an interesting graffiti street art along a small pedestrian tunnel below the historical bridge.P1120979 P1120978I enjoyed my evening stroll along the river which was surprisingly relaxing and quiet on the opposite side of the river away from the row of restaurants and bars. A “ying and yang” effect of harmony along the river.P1120987P1130005 P1130003P1130019P1130026 P1130013

After a long evening stroll, I decided to make my way to the Bugis street for a cheap dinner. I have noticed a street stall selling teochew style roast duck. It costs  $6 for a plate of some duck meat, tofu, bean sprouts and rice noodle. My verdict it was only an okay meal. P1130036 P1130032