Pancho Buta-don Restaurant ぱんちょう豚丼, Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Japanese

Nishi 1-jo Minami 11-19, Obihiro 080-0011, Hokkaido 

We were early for Pancho Buta-don, and yet we knew the restaurant from a few blocks down because of the queue that had formed even before it was open. Buta-don is actually quite a simple dish – rice topped with strips of barbequed pork, quite commonly found on restaurant menus across Hokkaido. Obihiro was a relatively quiet town with not a whole lot to see, so I was surprised to realize on hindsight that the best buta-don I’d taste on the entire trip would still be my first buta-don encounter – and that would be at Pancho Buta-don.

Damage: $

Honestly I don’t recall exactly how much it was, but there were two sizes available – regular or large. Large was actually the same amount of rice but with more meat; and if I were to go back, this would definitely be what I’d go for without a seconds hesitation. We couldn’t read the Japanese menu, so we ordered the signature Buta-don and probably spent around $10 per person, or slightly more.

To go: Yes! If ever we are in Obihiro 😀

The place is pretty compact and isn’t that big – I’m guessing it can take up to around 35 people. I’d make a note to get there early before it even opens, but anyhow, it’s definitely worth the wait.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

Queue at Pancho Butadon

I spotted the queue outside Pancho as I walked across from the JR station. Most of the people who were waiting were locals, which checked off the “authentic” box in my mind – I’m not sure about you but whenever I see hordes of tourists arrive at a restaurant or any establishment for that matter, I immediately think of “tourist trap”, “rip off prices”, and the conclusion that whatever it is they have is “probably not authentic”.

In Japan, the dining places always have a bamboo rod with the shop’s banner hanging from it going across the entrance, which they put up when they’re open for business and take down when they close for the day. A neat little lady came out and put the rod was up as everyone watched, and we were invited inside to our seats shortly after.

Pancho Butadon entrance

The interior was simple and mostly wood, with the menu in calligraphy on parchment framed up on the wall, simple rectangular tables and straight-backed chairs. It was very compact, and with our coats, there was barely any space between the chairs. The Japanese are incredibly efficient and within minutes of ordering, our food was served, along with yellow pickles and our add-on mushroom soups.

The buta-don (featured picture) was extremely fragrant. It was served covered with a bone china lid which could barely conceal the beautiful textured pork slices beneath. There were random green peas in the buta-don; they didn’t add to the dish but I didn’t mind because they did add colour and constituted greens of sorts. The sauce was a very tasty sauce which I believe was soy-based – it reminded me of the dark soya sauce most Chinese families would have at home, except it was thinner and had greater depth of flavour. The barbecue process had successfully infused the sauce into the pork slices, intensifying the flavours. We ate enthusiastically, and to my right, a little child with cheeks flushed pink reached out for one more slice of buta.

Rokkatei (六花亭), Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Japanese – Desserts

Rokkatei 2F, S9 W2 Obihiro-shi MAP. Tel, 0120-012-66

Rokkatei (六花亭) is well known for its desserts, especially its butter cream sandwich (マルセイバターサンド). They have a few branches around Hokkaido, including in Sapporo and Otaru. Rokkatei‘s branch in Obihiro was a little difficult to find – the entrance was through a little zen Japanese-style garden with slate-like stepping stones amongst the otherwise pebbled garden, a wooden bench and wispy trees. It was wedged deep between two low-rise buildings. We happened to be early so it was still awfully quiet, and we almost thought we’d mistakenly walked into someone’s house if not for the only thing that gave it away – a Japanese garden lamp along the pavement, bearing the words “六花亭”.

Damage: $

Compared to Singapore, the quality of the confectionery was higher and more affordable as well, which I thought surprising. I must say the Japanese are extremely devoted to their crafts, and desserts-making is no exception. While they tend to come in bite-sized packages (i.e. quite small), I’m pretty sure the same item would have costed about 2 – 3X more back home. On average, the snacks averaged around $1.50/pc and around $4/slice for the cakes, and especially when compared to cakes which cost $6 and up per slice back in Singapore, I thought I’d struck the lottery.

Biscuits, wafers, snacks galore Cutest cakesTo go: Yes! When in Japan! 😀

They have an amazing selection of desserts from mochi, to chocolates, to cakes. I personally recommend for you to try the butter biscuit (why, of course), and have a slice of cake or two while you’re there. Even if you can’t read Japanese and would like to delight your eyes with Rokkatei’s wide selection, you can view their catalogue here.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

Rokkatei was the first of several renowned dessert shops which I made a point to visit while in Hokkaido, and while I came to realize that the standards are high across all of them and the packaging is always phenomenal, more often than not, each of the dessert houses hold their own.

We tried two slices of cakes (feature picture) when we were there – one being a coffee cake with chestnut cream, and the other was a matcha cake with azuki beans. The cream on both cakes was extremely light and flavorful, and for someone who doesn’t really like chestnuts (except when toasted in a wok like on the streets in Seoul), I found the coffee-chestnut cake to be a great choice for the morning. I am a hardcore matcha lover, so my eyes lit up once I saw that on display and I just had to try it. It didn’t blow me away (which is the problem with matcha cakes because they are everywhere and mostly made in a similar way), but it was good. The azuki beans were interspersed in the layers of cream, and in a dollop on the top.

Definitely, the butter cream sandwich would be the pick for Rokkatei – White chocolate, raisins and hokkaido butter (nope, it’s no ordinary butter) sandwiched between two biscuits. It is creamy and melts in your mouth, with the sweetness of the raisins coming through every now and then.

Rokkatei Butter Cream Sandwich, Hokkaido

Table @ Pip’s, Singapore

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Category: Western

181 Orchard Rd, #B2-11/22 Orchard Central, Singapore 238896

B2 of Orchard Central is pretty dead, even on a Friday night. I’m not sure if anyone even ventures there, and Table@Pip’s is tucked all the way at the end if you’re approaching from the main escalators coming down from where the apple store is on level 1. The wait staff were very friendly and helpful, but the food and ambience just didn’t justify the bill.

Damage: $$

Appetisers (~$10), Pasta (~$20), Mains (varies, but easily ~$30 for a dish less common than something like Fish & Chips)

To go: Nope :/

The dishes are pretty pricey for the quality; the mains were a disappointment. I learnt from the waitress that Table@Pip’s was previously situated along the row of shophouses near Coronation Plaza, but had moved to this new spot since September 2014. They have quite a large floor space which is oddly split down the middle by a wide and open walkway, and the cafeteria-type plastic tables and chairs and colourful plastic placemats somehow didn’t feel like the right atmosphere for their fine-dining menu. Perhaps its 91% rating on HungryGoWhere was earned at the old place, but I won’t be back anytime soon.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

We started with the Foie Gras, which was served with sautéed onion, sweet glazed apple and a raspberry demi-glaze. The sauces were okay but coated the entire dish in a dark brown, making for a rather non-photogenic dish. I couldn’t really pick out the flavours distinctly, but I would describe it as a savoury, somewhat tangy contrast to the foie gras. The foie gras was a good portion and full of flavour, and the slice of sweet apple beneath worked surprisingly well.

My friend ordered the Creamy Carbonara (featured picture) – a pretty standard pasta dish. The pasta was a little too firm for my liking, but I supposed that could be a personal preference although most good Italian restaurants do it just right. While the bacon lent the carbonara flavour, I had to agree with her that it somehow made the dish a little too salty. The mushrooms were tasty, however, and so was the egg yolk – especially if you’re like me and love to slice open the yolk to coat every form of noodle.

Duck Leg Confit

The Duck Leg Confit (~$20) itself was tender and easy to separate with a fork, but was very dry in certain parts. The mash was very grainy and the vegetables entirely lacked flavour. If you have a craving for duck leg confit, go to Saveur instead for a better one and at a better price point.

There was an ongoing promotion for a $1 add-on for the flourless chocolate cake, which was around $8 on the menu if I recall correctly, so we ordered two – reminder to self: don’t order it again. The cake was 3 bite-sized and hard rounds on the plate, topped with a scoop of very ordinary vanilla ice cream.

The Lime Tree Cafe, Dubai, UAE

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Category: Arabic/Western – Breakfast/Brunch

Jumeirah 1, Jumeirah Road, Dubai 

We had our best brunch in Dubai at The Lime Tree Cafe which I’d read about ahead of the trip. We got a little lost trying to find this place and the taxi driver had no idea where it was. Turns out it was along a row of little single-story buildings which can be spotted if you looked hard enough past the open carpark.

The entrance to Lime Tree Cafe was enshrouded in lush green leaves, and stepping in, I felt like I’d chanced upon Eden. Wood featured heavily in the decor which gives it a homey feel (which I personally have a soft spot for), further augmented by the many families who bring along their dogs to brunch in the little garden. The cafe seemed to be especially popular with expats.

Damage: $

I wouldn’t say it was cheap, but it is around the same cost as a typical brunch at one of the independent cafes in Singapore, which is about 25 bucks – still, I’d say there was more bang for the buck at Lime Tree.

To go: Whenever we go to Dubai 😀

I really liked the middle eastern influences in the menu, and when I walked to the counter, I was delighted to find an entire shelf of all kinds of wraps, sandwiches and the like, which featured lots of colour and greens.

I had the Halloumi cheese and pomodoro toastie (feature picture), accompanied by a middle eastern banana and fig smoothie which was so delicious, I made sure I got out every single drop. My friend ordered an Eggs Benedict which looked pretty good (and I’m told tastes pretty good) as well. The food was delicious – we got greedy and added a triple berry parfait to split between the three of us. The cafe also featured lots of juices and smoothies for the health-buffs/conscious.

Yum – I’m definitely going back if I’m in the area.
Eggs Benedict and Berry Parfait with Granola

Mashrabiya Lounge, Fairmont the Palm, Dubai, UAE

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Category: Arabic/Western – Afternoon Tea

Mashrabiya Lounge, Fairmont the Palm, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai

The Afternoon Tea at Mashrabiya Lounge was nothing short of amazing – they offered both a Western style Afternoon tea as well as a more traditional Arabic Inspired High tea for the more adventurous, which was really unique. The Fairmont hostesses were exceptional in making us feel relaxed, making sure everything was just right for a perfect Saturday afternoon.

Damage: $$

For the extensive range of cakes, tarts, scones and tea offered, and not to mention the wonderful staff and amazing view of the gulf, I would say it was well worth 135AED.

To go: Whenever we go to Dubai 😀

We sat Al fresco and the view of the gulf from the Mashrabiya Lounge was just fab. We went at a time of the year when it was relatively comfortable in the shade (none of that 40 degrees in other months like August), so we enjoyed the sun and breeze whilst sipping our tea. Our hostesses Lea and Eunny took such great care of us – their warmness really made the experience even more special. At the end of tea, we all became friends, offering to show each other around should they ever visit our hometown of Singapore, and them, us, around Kenya.

Arabic High Tea

Arabic High Tea

A lot of tea for us three!

Alkaff Mansion Ristorante, Singapore

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Category: Western

10 Telok Blangah Green, Singapore 109178

Honestly, besides the lovely sight of the tudor-style historical bungalow peering over the park (which you can’t really see much of at night), the privacy and the very attentive service, I’m not sure anything else about Alkaff Mansion Ristorante really stood out to me. The portions are on the small side, which is fine considering it’s fine dining, but I didn’t come away very satisfied.

Damage: $$$

Antipasti (~27SGD), Pasta (~30SGD), Fish Main (~43SGD), Meat Main (~50SGD), Desserts (~15SGD)

To go: On rare occasion – should try new places first 😐

If I were to return, I would probably try going back in the day instead when I can enjoy the view and maybe sit out at Alkaff‘s Terrace. I’m thinking late afternoons would be a fine time for that. The menu changes every now and then.

They have a 3-course set lunch on weekdays at $36++, and Italian Afternoon tea on Mondays to Fridays at $26++ and Saturdays at $40++ (I suppose this helps cover the costs of the live band, dessert bar, and the additional crepes suzette and pasta stations).


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

2-starter

We opened our meal with an antipasti of Salmon Carpaccio; The salmon was fresh and the roe was springy as it should be, but the greens did nothing for the dish by being dry and tasteless. Although I like my dressing on salads or antipasti light, this was an olive oil dressing that did not quite bring out the flavours of the dish.

For the mains, we ordered the Porcetto Sardinyan Style, Carre’ d’Agnello al Forno, and Fettuccini with slow-roasted veal.

The Porcetto Sardinyan Style (see feature picture) was recommended to us as a fantastic Alkaff Mansion special. While the meat itself was relatively juicy and tender, the skin was really hard to cut through. If I were to knock it with my knife blade, it would remain unblemished while giving rise to a clicking sound. Again, the rest of the greens on the plate did nothing for the dish.

Lamb Rack and Veal Fettuccini

The Carre’ d’Agnello al Forno, or Oven Baked Lamb Rack, was slightly on the well done side but remained tender, although I wasn’t a fan of the slightly sweet and sticky sauce. The mash was grainy. As a pasta lover, I was disappointed that the fettuccini was rather forgettable; the meat was tasty and the pasta was al dente, but they felt like two separate dishes put on the same plate. The sauce could not coat nor cling to the pasta even after I tried to mix it up a few times, possibly also because there wasn’t a lot of it. At almost $30, there are many other places which can serve up a better pasta at this price point.

Semifreddo and Panna CottaTo end off, we had the Semifreddo al Cioccolato Bianco e Caffe’, and the Panna Cotta alla Vaniglia, Frutti di Bosco e Salsa al Lamponi. I love my sweets, but I would suggest having dessert elsewhere. The coffee came across as way too bitter in the semifreddo and the panna cotta had a bit too much of a gelatin texture to it which prevented the creaminess from coming through.

Wooloomooloo Steakhouse, Singapore

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Category: Western – Steakhouse

I visited Wooloomooloo Steakhouse when they first opened in Singapore, and I’ve gone back (and have been wanting to go back) at every opportunity. Wooloomooloo Steakhouse has a cosy spot in my book as a place that serves a great steak, is cosy (yet comfortable enough and not overly pretentious), and good to go with friends, family, and even that special someone.

2 Stamford Road, Level 3 Swissotel The Stamford, 178882 (Access from Raffles City Shopping Mall)

Wooloomooloo Steakhouse is tucked at a corner, just behind the escalators leading up to the conference venues, on level 3. You’ll be led from the entrance past chillers displaying a variety of wine and a classically-furnished bar area (think cigars and men in top hats) into the restaurant, which is surprisingly larger than it appears from the outside.

Damage: $$$

They’re reasonable (by that I mean around 70 bucks for an Australian Black Angus Beef 12-oz Rib Eye or Sirloin). If you don’t feel like spending a bomb, I’d pick them over CUT by Wolfgang Puck or Morton’s. In this price range, they trumph Bedrock Bar & Grill, and are comparable to Bistecca Tuscan Steakhouse, although I’d go to the latter just for the Fiorentina.

To go: Yes, whenever possible

Christmas time is actually a really good time to go to Wooloomooloo Steakhouse. They usually have a very comprehensive 4-course Christmas menu for $68++ at lunchtime, including a steak option for the mains. The rest of the menu is fixed. For people who can’t eat a whole lot, a set menu makes more sense as well. As for the rest of the lucky ones with bottomless pits for stomachs, by all means, feast and be merry!

The ambience by day is comfortable, cosy, with light coming in from the full length windows, and with views of the Padang. By night, the place seems to transform into a warm, rustic and charming atmosphere, with gentle lighting illuminating the dark wood.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

StartersThe bread that opened our meal was an onion bun which was served warm. The bun was soft, yet with a thin outer layer that provided a bit of bite, while the inside was fluffy and moist. I loved the onions atop, which was well complemented by the sea salt butter, although I thought some of the flavour could have been better kept at the edges which had been heated out a little too much.

The cream of pumpkin soup was next – creamy and flavourful. The highlight of this dish, however, was really the foie gras which was seared to perfection. Many places overcook foie gras, but this one wasn’t; the searing brought out the intensity of the flavour on the outside, while the inside remained soft and almost tofu-like.

Salmon on cream cheese

The appetiser was a smoked salmon dish on some cream cheese and topped with mint leaves. I thought this was an excellent choice, being light and full of fresh bright flavours, and really set the stage for the heavier (and meatier) mains and creaminess of the dessert to follow. I am personally not a fan of smoked salmon because I find it tends to be rather salty, but this was quite alright even for me.

The steak, oh the steak, was really my favourite part of the meal – as it should be, considering it is after all a steakhouse. It was a true medium, springy and still red through the middle, was tender through and kept its juices. The brown gravy brought out the meat’s woody notes, and the mash on the side was pureed into a cream.

Fruitcake dessert and coffee

The dessert was a Christmastime special of fruitcake, seated in a moat of a creamy vanilla sauce, topped with vanilla ice cream and a caramelised thin. I wasn’t a fan of the fruitcake (nor of most fruitcakes for that matter) because it was quite hard and the flavours were too synthetic and gummy for my liking, although the ice cream was fine. The coffee that came later was a great way to finish the meal and cleanse the palate though – strong and full-bodied with a mild bitter finish, accompanied with a little chocolate truffle cube.