NamNam, Singapore

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Category: Vietnamese – Casual

NamNam is probably the first vietnamese restaurant to have made it to multi-branch status. Owned by the Les Amis Group which owns other restaurants such as Peperoni Pizzeria and the newer brother to NamNamConnam (or “Broken rice bowl”), NamNam is especially popular amongst the weekday lunch crowd – in part due to its accessible location, and in part due to its affordable set lunch.

252 North Bridge Road, #B1-46/47 Raffles City Shopping Centre, Singapore 179103, 10 – 9.30PM daily (Multiple Branches)

Namnam is conveniently located at major shopping malls, and has spread its reach across Singapore with branches at Suntec City, Wheelock Place, Plaza Singapura, and even Resorts World Sentosa. Greens and browns feature strongly in the decor at Namnam, and it often jumps out because of its rustic vibe.

Damage: $ – $$

Lunch set meals are good value for money at $9.90 flat, and include a bowl of beef or chicken pho, a small plate of appetizer (which used to be the fresh southern rolls, but is now a salad), and a vietnamese coffee or lotus tea. At other times, the noodle dishes are about $10, with appetisers and sides going at about $5 – $6, which is still affordable especially when you’re eating about town.

To go: Possibly yes, but don’t expect consistency

I used to be a loyal fan of Namnam and went at least once a week for lunch when they first opened, but after a short while, as their business picked up, the standard dropped considerably. Service is eyebrow-raising at times, especially at the Raffles City branch, with service staff leading you to tables that are not yet vacated or swapping you about between different tables for no apparent reason at all, but I think that boils down to specific kanchiong (colloquial speak for someone who is over eager and tending to cause blunders as a result) staff rather than the entire team. I find Namnam to be either hit-or-miss, about 50-50 both ways, but I guess at the price point we couldn’t ask for too much.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

The atmosphere is pretty consistent across the NamNam branches – packed and cramped with tables just the width-of-the-spread-of-your-fingers apart, with hurrying staff carrying bowls of pho and others ushering customers from the queue to available seats, NamNam is a no frills, quick eats kind of place, with a do-it-yourself approach when it comes to service – but there’s no service charge so that’s fine.

NamNam Pho Singapore Food Review Blog Vietnamese Noodles SaladThe appetisers at NamNam have always been consistently good. The salad of crunchy pickled vegetables, slices of fish cake, fatty pork belly, tossed with crunchy peanuts and crispy shallots is full of intense, alert flavours. However, the pork tends to be very fatty, slivery and lacks taste, but the other parts of the salad is undoubtably good and perfect for prepping the palate for the rest of the meal.

NamNam Pho Singapore Food Review Blog Vietnamese Noodles

The Sliced Beef Pho has sometimes been a hit – springy noodles with a slight bite, with thin, tender slices of beef – and at other times, a miss – noodles going way too soft and soggy probably from sitting in the broth for too long, and chewy tough beef with lots of hard tendon going through. When it’s good, it’s good, but when it’s bad, it’s bad. The only thing that’s really been consistent is the broth which always has a good depth of flavour and is sufficiently flavoured with thai aromatic herbs and spices.

NamNam is okay to go with familiar friends, but not a good place to chat about much because even if you’re quick with your meal, you can never seem to be quick enough. Service can be appalling – once I’d been at my meal for barely 20 minutes when a family suddenly appeared beside our table. The couple and their two children looked befuddled, and we too were confused by their presence. They told the waitress who’d led them there that we weren’t done yet, and she promptly waved a hand at us and decided, “no they’re finished”. On another occasion, I was halfway through my soup when a waitress came, just took the saucer of chilli and dropped it right into my soup. I looked up at her in shock, and she said “you’re done right?”- too late, soupwrecked. My visits dropped from weekly to once every few months, and now, when prompted for pho, I’d suggest we go to So.Pho instead.

So.Phô, Singapore

SCRIBBLES

Category: Vietnamese – Casual

When it comes to pho, Namnam is usually the first suggestion to be thrown out because it’s conveniently located at multiple locations, and I suppose, not very expensive. I’d never heard of So.Pho perhaps because it was later to the market than Namnam, and so was pleased to hear about it as a new alternative – I’d long cut back on patronising Namnam because of the declining standard of the food and somewhat appalling service.

Paragon, 290 Orchard Road #B1-20, Singapore 238859, opens 11am – 10pm (Multiple Branches)

I visited the branch located at the basement of Paragon, but there are three other branches; at Jem (Jurong), NEX (Serangoon), and Tampines Mall (Tampines). The Paragon branch is just around the corner from Starbucks, and with bright white words against a black sign, and a bustling casual concept – an ease to locate.

Damage: $$

Pho is a relatively simple comforting dish, and at So.Pho, the prices were about $9 for a bowl which is about the average rate at Pho restaurants in Singapore. Side dishes averaged slightly under $10 as well, but portions were quite small. All in all, I’d say prepare to spend around $20 each for a main and a side to share.

To go: For casual comfort food, and to fix Pho cravings when about town

If you’re out about town or at any of the major malls at the extreme corners of our island and want tasty, comfort food, So.Pho is a good idea. Given the choice between So.Pho and Namnam, I can now safely say that I’d pick the former any day. They’re as packed and seating is tight as is at Namnam, but they have a lot more variety and noticeably better service attitudes that really makes the meal that much better. The food is good as well, and nowadays, almost always better than Namnam.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

So.Pho is your typical Vietnamese restaurant – tables barely 30cm apart from each other, quick and colourful food, and a lively crackling atmosphere. If you’re looking for privacy, this won’t be it. But if you want vibrant asian spices and flavours and love noodles, rice rolls, and that sort of stuff – So.Pho is your lady.

So.pho Singapore Food Review Blog Pho

The Pho (featured picture) was served with a tasty broth – lighter than the one at Namnam but not compromising on flavour. It was more refreshing, and the beef slices were tender and there were meat balls in the mix as well. A hearty comfort dish.

I had the stir-fried vermicelli noodles with sliced beef, which was one of the restaurant’s recommended dishes. It was delicious – the noodles were well tossed in a fragrant sauce and the beef was tender as well. The serving of vegetables was pretty generous, and I think they could’ve afforded to do more of the same for the beef as well. All in all, a good dish and decently priced.

The appetiser dishes were all good and of a wide variety, and so it’s difficult to make a recommendation. The mango salad, I hear, is pretty good. If you do go by, let me know which you enjoyed as well!

So.pho Singapore Food Review Blog Pho Noodles

Paradise Dynasty, Singapore

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Category: Chinese – La mian, XLB

I daresay Paradise Dynasty is one of my all-time favourite and most frequented restaurants. Just a few days ago, my friend who’ll be coming over from San Francisco in March asked for some recommendations, and this was one of the places that came to mind almost immediately.

Multiple locations including ION Orchard, Westgate and now, VivoCity

Every Singaporean would have heard of Paradise Dynasty – it’s one of the restaurant chains in the famous Paradise Group that owns several other fantastic Chinese restaurants such as Taste Paradise and Paradise Inn. They’re so well represented in Singapore that you’ll probably be able to find one of their restaurants in any decent-sized mall.

Damage: $$

Paradise Dynasty is one of the more (if not the most) affordable options from the Paradise Group, and it’s easy to get full (and I mean really stuffed) on under $20 per person. Portions are generous, and they’re especially popular for their La mian (pulled noodles; ~$10) and Xiao Long Bao ($8.90 Up).

To go: Yes, and often!

One of the most value-for-money places, with good service and delicious food, I’d come here time and time again. Paradise Dynasty almost always has a long queue, especially if you’re going anytime outside of office hours – whether it’s on a weekday after work or on a weekend, prepare to wait at least half an hour. Besides the La mian and Xiao Long Bao, the other dishes are mostly of a very good standard as well. I don’t believe I’ve ever left Paradise Dynasty unsatisfied.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

Paradise Dynasty Xiao Long Bao Singapore Food Review

Since the servings are quite large, we decided to go with a mix of dishes to share, including a basket of xiao long bao, wok-fried rice with shrimps and preserved vegetables, crisp-fried fish fillet with minced garlic, and crispy sweet and sour porkXiao long bao (literally “small basket buns”; feature picture) are little steamed soup dumplings originating from the Jiangnan province in China. They are pinched into tiny folds and sealed at the top and when bitten into, releases the tasty soup within. The ones at Paradise Dynasty came piping hot, but I felt that the delicate skin was pinched too tightly at the top such that it gave it a more heavy doughy texture which could explain the breaking of some baos. Overall, it came second to Din Tai Fung’s – although they have their signature basket of xiao long baos in 8 flavours which you can’t get anywhere else; the truffle, foie gras and garlic ones being particularly good.

Paradise Dynasty serves up a tasty fried rice, with fluffy grains and a good stir-in of fresh ingredients, second only to Din Tai Fung (looks like I need to write about DTF!). The crisp-fried fish fillet  was lacking flavour and the batter was extremely tasteless and oily, which made us queasy – so I definitely recommend against ordering it.

Crispy sweet sour pork Paradise Dynasty Singapore Food ReviewThe crispy sweet and sour pork (also known locally as “kor lor yok”) was delicious! When we next return, I’ll make sure to order it again. It was so crispy, and caramelised in the flavourful sweet and sour sauce, flavoured with the sweetness of pineapple and onion slices and countered by the chilli.

For dessert, we had the egg white soufflé with banana and red bean. I’d had it before at the ION Orchard branch and remembered it was light and fluffy in texture, but this one was… deflated. The soufflé fell into more of a thick sort of dough, so perhaps it would be wise to skip the dish since you won’t know who’s in the kitchen.

Egg white souffle Paradise Dynasty Dessert Food Blog Singapore

Egg white souffle red bean banana Paradise Dynasty Singapore Review

If you’re visiting Singapore and are new to Paradise Dynasty, I strongly recommend ordering the la mian, because they are really among Paradise Dynasty’s strongest dishes. I didn’t have it this time but I have had it almost every other time I visited – springy noodles in a robust pork bone broth, an onsen tamago (egg with a firm but custard-texture yolk) and, in many renditions, fish maw- it just always hits the spot each and every time.

De Zaab, Bangkok, Thailand

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Category: Thai, Northeastern – Casual Dining

On the morning of our last day in Bangkok, we decided to explore the UP Rama 3 mall (ดิอัพ พระราม 3) which newly opened, just down the street from where we were staying at the Chatrium Residence Sathorn. The mall was barely a month old, and we’d gone down to scout it out for a place to have breakfast. Unexpectedly, one of our most value-for-money and best meals happened there at a new restaurant, which we hadn’t even heard of, called De Zaab on the first floor.

The Up Rama 3, Narathiwat Ratchanakarin Road, Yannawa, Bangkok

Chong Non Si ช่องนนทรี The Up Rama 3 ถนนนราธิวาสราชนครินทร์ ยานนาวา กรุงเทพฯ

The UP mall is located at the corner of a major street intersection. If I had to draw parallels, it would be a version of Singapore’s Chijmes, with its elements of old world european architecture. It’s pretty small but has several food establishments including Singapore’s very own Boon Tong Kee chicken rice restaurant alongside a significant number of medium to high-end Japanese Restaurants; from Japanese barbecue to handmade sushi and sashimi from fish flown in from Japan in an omakase format.

Damage: $

De Zaab offered the most incredible value ever. At lunchtime, they had set meals which were between 160 – 190THB ($6-$8) which were fixed pairings of dishes from their regular menu. We’d thought that perhaps the portions would be smaller but alas, the portions were comparable to everywhere else, and my-, the dishes were all good!

To go: Definitely, if you’re in the vicinity

Leaving the restaurant, we were actually concerned about the restaurant’s viability, with prices almost comparable to the street-side stalls (except this was a proper restaurant). I do note that this may be out of the way for those staying farther up north in Bangkok. However, if you find yourself somewhere near to or in Sathorn, they’re definitely worth your while.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

At 10.30am on a Monday morning, the UP Mall was still relatively quiet apart from the soft pipe-in Japanese music which reminded me of the Shiroi Koibito Park in Hokkaido. The signs of the mall’s recentness were fully apparent – the walls and floors were spotless, and some units were still in the midst of having their fixtures put up whilst one or two others were pending tenancy.

Since it was our last day in Bangkok, we thought it made perfect sense to indulge in Thai food, and so when we passed by De Zaab on the first floor and saw the tantalising pictures, we went straight in.

Pad Thai and Thai mango Salad Bangkok ThailandAll I can say is damn – we made a hella good choice. We ordered a set of Thai papaya salad and a seafood Pad Thai (rice noodles stir fried with eggs, firm tofu, a touch of sugar and spice and with peanut bits). When served, we were gawking at the heap that was the papaya salad. The papaya strands were a good rawness, thickness and had lots of crunch. Every stand of the Pad Thai was well glazed with the tamarind and fish sauce, with a good amount of prawns to boot. Personally, I prefer how they do it in Singapore, which is to stir fry the beansprouts in with the noodles, whereas here, the beansprouts were served raw on the side.

The Seafood Tom Yum Soup had so much depth of flavour as well – it was light but punchy on the spicy and sour, with just the right tone of sweetness – and was loaded with plenty of ingredients including fresh prawns, squid and a whole party of vegetables.

Seafood Tom yum Soup Bangkok Thailand

De Zaab Signature Stir fried Noodles Bangkok Thailand

Truth be told, I have no idea what the dish above (and also the featured image) is called, but I’d refer to it as one of the restaurant’s signature dishes because it was featured on the wall, and also had half a page of the menu dedicated entirely to it. It wasn’t part of a set, but either way, if you show them this picture, I’m sure their friendly staff will be able to figure it out – just look at the amount of ingredients in this thing – fresh and succulent prawns, fishcake slices, and a generous helping of vegetables on top of the fragrant and fluffy vermicelli. Such a delight.