Paddy Hills

I have my personal favourites when it comes to cafés, places I am willing to visit time and time again because they’ve proven themselves to be worthy of sustained customer support. Places which make you feel like you bloody well deserve that pocket of time to yourself, do most of their stuff from scratch, and leave you feeling that much better about yourself. Good food, service, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you get the feel. These days, I find there is a serious influx of new cafés, all hidden in some back alleys, all seemingly rushed, not that I know any of what goes on behind the scenes of course, but nothing truly stood out, beckoning me with come hither vibes. But that’s exactly what Paddy Hills, the newest, half-pretentious, corner-of-the-block little café, did. When I walked in, a kind young lad with a grey beanie I desperately wanted for myself greeted me. I looked around and soaked in the delicious atmosphere– no arse-challenging seats, perfect for actually sitting, would you believe it? There was a large communal table where people chatted and worked on laptops. The air was cool, and indie folk was blaring audibly from above, but nothing intrusive. So far, so good. I was scared of thronging crowds, being packed sardine-style in between customers. It was a blistering hot Thursday at precisely 12pm, and I was waiting for pain. Thankfully, pain was something I didn’t experience. Lucky shot? I should think so. I haven’t written a review in ages, and only find it fitting to revive a well-missed habit with this one. I don’t remember being this excited about visiting a new f&b startup. Look, I do my fair share of stalking. I’ve recently cut down on my gross Instagram usage, but when it comes to that occasional hour of scrolling freedom, that mindless but glorious activity which is supposed to suppress boredom, I make full use of it. How could I not visit a place that sells the most photogenic food I’ve seen in a long time? I’m quite a stickler for tradition, but the dishes, which, although looked modern (obviously well-filtered) and had components which were separated for a contemporary effect, still seemed to speak volumes about flavour. It is this wordless, throbbing excitement which enticed me to hop over to the other side of the country, something I deem a fair feat in light of my usual reluctance to travel far distances for the sake of a good cuppa joe, and especially thanks to all the bird’s eye view shots of this berry ricotta hotcake. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Berry Ricotta Hotcake with blueberry sugar, berries, pine nuts, mascarpone and maple syrup–$19

Now isn’t that a beauty. I marvelled for a while, too scared to touch the forest of berries let alone tuck in. The best part was definitely those perfectly crisp, mildly caramelised edges, a golden-brown ring of sweet, rigid bite. The best bite comprised these three components: a nip off the crisp edge, a poke of fruit, and a generous lathering of mascarpone from the ball of the stuff sitting on top. If one is lucky, you may get a bit of warm blueberry nestled like a crumble surprise in the middle of the cake, or a sweet little bit of mascarpone, pockets of which are also found dotted on the surface of the cake. You work your way in. Alas, it gets a bit stodgy a bit too fast, too soon. It’s indeed one of the lightest and fluffiest cakes I’ve ever come across, but at that, the fluff notch was turned up a bit too high near the middle, right at the thickest part of the hotcake. I know I know– what? How can anything be too fluffy? And prior to my experience here, I would have to agree. However, this maximal fluff generated clouds of uncontrollable, pale crumbs, which refused to cooperate with each other to produce a more solid, manageable mass. I was expecting a glorified Mickey Dees hotcake, but it’s entirely different. I was grateful for the carpet of colourful berries on top, for not only did they make the whole thing like a fairy forest, they were also necessary to balance the cake, which has maple syrup infused in the batter. The crumb, though light and pale, had a consistency moist enough so I could still smush bits together with the cheese and fruit to enjoy each and every bite. If anything, they should attempt reducing the thickness of the hotcake, retaining those divine edges and increasing the density, for maximum brunch pleasure. Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset The Asian Brick: bruleed brioche french toast, goreng pisang (fried banana fritters), butternut squash puree, purple sweet potato, yam ice cream, gula melaka and marcona almonds– $18

Though I didn’t have the chance to actually try this french toast, I was highly impressed by the presentation and complementary components of the dish. I had a nip of the yam ice cream, and it was creamy, light and flavourful. The fact that it’s homemade and everything so intricately presented made the steep price a tad more understandable. The next time I’m here, I’m definitely ordering this. They also offer things like orange ricotta pillows, which have orange caramel and a citrus salad. All very posh, like they’re on their tippy-toes and reaching for the fine lights of modern gourmet fare. And you know what? They’re almost there. On the brink of something truly impressive, if it weren’t for two things: the coffee and the waiting time. I ordered a 2-ounce flat white ($4), but it tasted subdued, sub-par. I expected a little more because I read many a review on how spectacular the coffee is. Perhaps I was simply unlucky. I wanted a nick on the palate, a bite of caffeine, something.. more. Thankfully for them, I’m willing to return to try the other enticing menu options. Yes, some time in the future, before I break the bank. Rating: 3.8/5 Paddy Hills 38 South Buona Vista Road 6479 0800

Tiong Bahru Bakery Valentines Day Special

It has been a long, painful while since I’ve done a tasting review. Well, any review, for that matter. You can imagine my excitement when I was invited for this one in particular, because the images of the new Valentines Day Special creations by the one and only Gontran Cherrier looked so moreish I swear there were drool pearls on my keyboard. No exaggeration here. Welcome to TBB.

Chocolate and hazelnut kouign amann ($4.50); pineapple and coconut tart ($8.50)
Clockwise: Chocolate and hazelnut kouign amann ($4.50), chocolate and orange marble cake ($18 a loaf, $4.50 a slice), and pineapple and coconut tart ($8.50)

If there’s anything so dangerous as to put a huge ‘DANGER: DEATH BY BUTTERY DELECTABLE CHOCOLATE PASTRY’ sign on it, then this chocolate and hazelnut kouign amann is it. It’s pronounced ‘queen’, by the way. I learnt that the hard way and got mildly embarrassed. This is it, friends. A monster, the provocative cousin of the sweet, light and fair original. Made with rich French chocolate and generous chunks of chopped hazelnut stuffed like sardines in between the multitude of buttery, flaky layers. The best bit is definitely the middle of the humongous chocolate snail– soft and almost squidgy, yet yielding just enough crunch to (almost) rival the incredibly, shatteringly crisp outer layers. At $4.50, it really isn’t too bad. You can be all good one day and have half. It’s about the saving. Be clever about it. It’s too good to wolf down in one shot anyway.

My favourite, I must say, was the pineapple and coconut tart. The ring of white chocolate on top was the almost de rigueur addition to the perfectly set pineapple mousse sitting atop a buttery, sugar pastry disc. I admit it looked a tad gaudy to me at first; I knew they wished to replicate the feel of actual pineapple rings, but I felt the tart would have fared better in my books (looks-wise) if the hole was filled with, well, more mousse. The filling was delicate without falling apart like my friend’s virgin, failed attempt at an airy-fairy chocolate mousse. It could have been a little tarter, yes, and the coconut chantilly cream was so lost in the world of pineapple that the minuscule piping on top of the chocolate did little for its flavour or acknowledgement. On the whole, this tart caters well to the masses, and is a little less sinful than the former mention with enough chocolate to render you senseless.

I was looking forward to the cake, but sadly, the little bite on my tongue felt like a mass of dry bubbles. Perhaps this was just a one-off mistake, a lost little batch, but I think more needs to be done to improve the moisture setting. It may indeed go well with a cup of tea or coffee (or kopi), doused in some overly sweet, caffeinated beverage, but I think the classic combination of orange and chocolate demands its own crowning without the need for anything extra to compensate. Pity.

Nougat and strawberry macaron ($8.50)
Nougat and strawberry macaron ($8.50)

If you’re anything like me and have a penchant for anything jaw-aching, be it sweet or sour, then you’re in for a treat with this one. Ok, it’s not exactly jaw-aching, but I revere nougat as a complement to anything, so that addition was much appreciated and welcome in my books. The fluffy chew of nougat played up the hard, outrageously hot pink shell, and real fresh strawberries cut through the sweet on sweet. I was offered that lovely, fresh grapefruit juice too, so I guess I managed to tolerate half the macaron without feeling overwhelmed by the candy-cane-happiness of it all, for it can get sickly. If this were less sweet and artificial-looking, it would have had a better chance at beating the lovely pineapple mousse tart. Ah, the details do matter.

Hop over to Tiong Bahru bakery to try at least a few of the new specials, because they won’t last forever! I must say, the original branch at Eng Hoon Street is still my favourite, with its slightly industrial, I-came-all-the-way-here-because-I’m-worth-it vibe. Small tables, smooth coffee, little snippets of conversation getting caught in the air, everything baked in-house.

Tiong Bahru Bakery

56 Eng Hoon Street

6220 3430

Open daily from 8am-8pm, closes at 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays

The Lokal

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I wanted to write about this place for quite a while now, but I had to visit twice, you know, just to be sure. Also, with exams just round the corner, it’s been rather hard for me to justify an hour so in front of my computer doing something other than school-related research. It almost feels irresponsible, but then I remember how weirdly satisfied I feel each time I click on that ‘publish’ button, and anyway, it’s a nice break from the books. OK, it takes quite a lot for me to label something as a favourite, but there you go, and there it is. Any place I visit more than once says quite a lot on my part, to be perfectly honest. The Lokal at 136 Neil Road is not your typical stop-by hooter shoot. Aussie-inspired and run by the group heading Sarnies, another popular spot along Telok Ayer which I have yet to visit, goodness gracious. I feel a slow joy ebbing through me as I type, just because I so thoroughly enjoyed my first experience there. It is precisely 10.42pm at night and I am drooling just looking at the picture above.

Cappuccino
Cappuccino

At more than $5, you would think that this cup would cost you more than what you might benefit from, but trust me, it’s beyond worth the price. This cappuccino in particular has dark chocolate undertones and a subtle, nutty aftertaste. The foam is a dream, the art intricate and professional. I always feel a little wary when I talk about coffee, because I am a complete amateur when it comes to distinguishing between flavour, roasts and extraction degrees, but this is undoubtedly good bang for your buck. Holy shucks, the things I would do for one right now. It lasted me a good hour too, and I relished the thick layer of creamy foam at the very end, scooping it up as if they were bits of airy treasure.

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toasted banana bread with caramelised bananas, homemade yoghurt sauce, toasted macadamias and orange zest– $12

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I kid you not, this is one of the top 3, ok no, 5 things I have ever tasted in my life, alongside others such as foie gras terrine I had in Bordeaux two years ago. It’s way up there, my friend. I remember putting the first forkful into my mouth, making sure to have a bit of every component impaled on the tips, before the taste bud shock thrust me into immediate, unexpected pleasure. I had to close my eyes for just a second, and that is rare, even for me. The homemade yoghurt sauce was what elevated all the flavours of the banana bread, which would have otherwise been overwhelmingly sweet drenched in inches of toffee syrup and even more of the stuff oozing from the slippery, soft sides of those well caramelised bananas. I appreciated the maintenance of a slightly firm interior and rich, caramelised outer layer, instead of being greeted by a flopping about of wet, ripe banana all over the place, yellow dotted guts and all. The nuts provided a hearty crunch, the bread itself wonderfully saturated, beautiful and dense. Each forkful was soft and tender, thanks to the loving bath of toffee, which would’ve been even better with a touch of fleur de sel, now that I think about it.

Fruit salad with homemade yoghurt and white chia seeds– $9
Fruit salad with homemade yoghurt and white chia seeds– $9

This was happily consumed on my second visit, alongside the same, oh-so-loyal capp. At the back you may notice my mother’s avocado, homemade ricotta cheese (don’t you just love the homemade theme running through here?), pomelo and toasted almonds on sourdough ($18). The fruit salad was predictably good, the yoghurt thin and tangy, eventually mixing in with the juices collected from all the fruit. I got a generous helping of watermelon, melon, exotic dragon-fruit and berries. They went all healthy and wholesome with the addition of chia seeds too, and it was only then that I acknowledged the existence of white chia, aside from black, which I enjoy at home in things like oatmeal and atop toast with avocado, honey and maldon. It’s the perfect dish to really fill you up, since the chia seeds expand upon contact with water and sit nicely in your stomach for as long as possible. How adorable. Little jelly balls. What I enjoyed more was the smashed avocado dish, although the avocado itself could’ve benefitted from a touch more seasoning, with coarse salt, lime and pepper. Chilli flakes, even. Just something to move it away from normalcy. That aside, the sourdough was gorgeous, poached eggs (which we ordered as a side for $6) were decent and the homemade ricotta was an effortful and effective addition. Breakfast fare aside, I’m duly keen to try out their sandwich options, which include handcrafted roast beef on rye and chicken varieties. They even have ‘toasties of the day’, and that in itself should make your toes tingle. Does for me, anyway.

I think it a little silly to say ‘I’ll be back’, because that’s just a painfully obvious statement, and anything painfully obvious simply does not deserve to be stated. There. Go.

The Lokal

136 Neil Road

Singapore 088865

Craftsmen Specialty Coffee

cappuccino

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I still can’t believe I travelled all the way to the East for good coffee. Siglap, to be more precise. All for the sake of trying out this three-week old café. It wasn’t exactly a tedious prospect, but it just so happened that that day was particularly hot, and I almost couldn’t bring myself to further my advances in the obtaining of skin cancer. I’ll be the first to get it and my future children would hate me forever. It’s kind of genetic, you know.

So thank goodness this place had an ambience welcoming enough to compensate for the long distance. I took my little sister along to accompany me, forcing her to bring along some work just so she could at least attempt to be productive that Thursday. I brought my English stuff along, but ended up gushing over the coffee instead of analysing the moth-like tendencies of Blanche Dubois in Streetcar named Desire. All’s still good, I promise.

 

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cappuccino–$5, iced chocolate–$6

The cappuccino was one of the best I’ve had in an incredibly long time. I appreciated its soft and creamy touch on the palate, and wasn’t in the least bit acidic or sour. The iced chocolate was predictably sweet and refreshing; you can’t exactly go wrong with this. Some places like to posh it up with some vanilla ice cream and extra bits and bobs, but this was perfectly fine on its own. Yum.

The food, on the other hand, was another story. Pips, my sister, ordered the pain au chocolat, her favourite, which was unfortunately nothing short of disappointing. Sufficiently chocolatey and gooey on the inside, yes, but it should definitely have been served warmer and toastier. The crisp factor here was little to none, apart from the occasional caress of flaky crust on your tongue as you joyously tear the elastic pastry bands beneath the less-than-pleasant crust on top.

My own parfait was mediocre, decent at most. The yoghurt they used was a little thin and much too bland; someone needs to hook these guys up with some greek yoghurt stat. The thick, freshly-strained sort. Tang missing, fruit doing little to compensate for the muesli which was overwhelming in both quantity and sweetness. I felt a tad ill after eating just half of the stuff. I personally love it when muesli and yoghurt are mushed together and the initial crunch is whittled down after some time to a delectable, sub-healthy mush, but the ratios here did not work as well to bolster that nice ‘mush’ factor. Ah, pity.

That being said, the ambience here was more than inviting, gorgeous wooden tables everywhere and even a miniature ferris wheel gracing the wide window, and the staff are friendly and amicable. They also serve a variety of belgian waffles, each with its own coupling of ice cream and toppings. I promised myself, as I left, with a half-heavy heart, to try some the next time I chance upon an East Café adventure. Waffle-anything is the epitome of café worthiness, and this place is worth the hop.

 

Craftsmen Specialty Coffee

2 First Street, Siglap V, #01-01, Singapore 458278

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pain au chocolat–$4.20, yoghurt and muesli parfait–$10

Bistro du Vin (feat. the best salted caramel dessert)

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Good food is magical. Surreal, almost, if the ambience and company is right. This is a long, long, long overdue post, but it took me a ridiculously long time as well to think of the perfect way to showcase it. Yes, it is my fault. Felix’s birthday was in the beginning of May, and this lunch was meant to celebrate that special date, his special 17th, and look, it’s already mid-June. He suggested this place and I just couldn’t say no, considering it was one of those quaint little corners I just always passed, always beckoning for a visit, and I just chant, ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’. Cue the quaintest little red corner and vintage French comic strips lining the low walls of this adorable hideout. The man you see above was quietly nibbling away at something or another, occasionally looking out the window, reminding me of the pleasures of dining on quality food alone. I wasn’t alone, but I was with the best ever company in the world.  Those fresh, coarse locks and brown seafoam eyes are my vice. Second to none. No, there was no better company.

I’ll be frank– he’s more francophile than anglophile. I’m the opposite, or so I claim, but one cannot deny the gracious experience some spectacular French fare can provide. Honestly, guys, look at those beautiful diamond-rectangle slabs of fatty beauty below. Is that not one of the most gorgeous sights ever to exist? Bistro du Vin provides set lunches of superb quality and such decent prices. By the end of it all, and that was, what, a good 2 hours later, I was more than satisfied. And my wallet, for once, wasn’t crying out in pain.

pan fried foie gras (extra $8 with pickled onion and eggplant)
pan fried foie gras (extra $8 with pickled onion and eggplant)

Alex sees onions, Alex sees nothing else.

The foie gras was wonder on a plate. Moist, perhaps not as fatty as it could have been (I’m thinking Au Petit Salut’s moreish version right now). The caramelised, pickled onions were sweet and glazed, offering good contrast to the steamy, superabundance of I-cut-like-butter fat. Two slices was perhaps a bit much, considering there were still two full courses to go. The full effects were weighing down like stale jelly in my stomach by the time I was through with the first few bites. In a sort of pleasant way. How odd.

baked camembert with smoked bacon, apple and toasted sourdough
baked camembert with smoked bacon, apple and toasted sourdough

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His appetiser: soft, creamy, probably still mooing. The mild flavour of the cheese worked well with the hardy sourdough crust, the sourdough providing a pleasant, light sourness, and the cooked apple and salty hit of bacon. Once again, practically a meal in itself.

bouillabaise of fish, clams, mussels and prawns
bouillabaisse of fish, clams, mussels and prawns

This was my main, which was more filling than it looks. The broth was soft yet hearty, brimming with all flavours of the sea. The fish, and sadly I forgot to ask what sort it was, was overcooked and dry (which was probably why I didn’t bother to ask in the first place). Everything else was… Decent, I should say, with mediocre-tasting prawns, which were also a little too hard, and little clams and mussels. The hero was that sultry broth which managed to sufficiently flavour all the components. Thick and saturated, yum.

baked pear tart on puff pastry with salted caramel ice cream
baked pear tart on puff pastry with salted caramel ice cream

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In other words, the best part of the set lunch.

In other words, the best salted caramel ice cream I have ever tasted, beating the one at Wimbly Lu and Habitat Coffee, which I love but cower in the face of this divine beauty. It melted like a withering caramel crystal on top of a crusty disc of flaky puff pastry, lovingly studded with delicate slivers of sweet pear, all thick and almost reluctant to give in to the pressure of my fork. A dream. The sort of dish which, even right now as I type with shaky fingers due to the single memory of its perfection, makes me weak at the knees. The sort of dish which you delight in eating even after all the ice cream has melted and has deflated and saturated the pastry, because you are a child once again revelling in the silly joy that is soggy, sweet stodge.

crème brûlée
crème brûlée

His clever choice. Can you see the fine smatterings of vanilla bean evenly dispersed throughout its creamy, provocative belly? The top crackled, the brûlée a sharp crowning of a most luxurious wobble!

I can’t, won’t, shan’t ever forget this lunch. One of the best set meals I have ever had, quality surpassing expectations, with only a few mishaps here and there. All for only $30++ (I hate how they charge $8 for the additional onions though– that’s just a necessity and there’s no denying it).

I usually don’t say this, but I’m highly inclined to come again.

 

Rating: 4.8/5.0

Bistro du Vin

1 Scotts Road, #02-12, Shaw Centre / 56 Zion Rd

Singapore 228208 / 247781