Bites from abroad: 4 new eateries to try this week

Indonesian ‘mee chiang kueh’, Korean churros, funky bao and Hawaiian raw fish rice bowls. Meet these fun new eateries with trendy concepts that the owners discovered overseas

Pancake Boss
Pancake Boss
11 Nov 2015

Pancake Boss

#04-15 Bugis cube mall, 470 north bridge rd, s188735. Tel: 9066-2912. Open daily except Mon. Tues-Sun noon-8pm. Last orders at 7.45pm. www.facebook.com/pancake-boss-1127159953976779

No, martabak manis (“sweet pancake”) in Indonesia is nothing like the savoury Indian murtabak we know and love in Singapore. In fact, it’s more like our local mee chiang kueh, or peanut pancake.

This one-and-a-half month-old cafe specialises in the popular Indonesian street food. The pancake is usually stuffed with sinfully generous heaps of cheese, chocolate or chopped peanuts. Think of it as the amped-up angmoh version of mee chiang kueh, which looks and tastes similar, but Pancake Boss’ owner tells us the martabak manis here contains eggs in its plain flour and water batter, which makes it more lemak than mee chiang kueh's flour and water-based recipe. It also has a crispier crust, and has condensed milk drizzled liberally onto its fillings. According to the owner, she uses premium peanuts that are freshly ground in-house, “unlike the ready-made variety that mee chiang kueh uses”.

The 27-seater is run by 40-something May Lee, a Singaporean who used to work in a commodities firm. She holidays in Indonesia frequently and fell in love with martabak manis there. She invested “about $100,000” to set up Pancake Boss with a silent partner. She personally makes the martabaks here, so be prepared to wait about 20 minutes for your orders, which May prepares in a cast iron pan. She taught herself how to cook the pancakes with the help of some tips from Indonesian friends.

THE LOOK: We initially thought Pancake Boss was affiliated with Martabak Boss, a popular martabak specialist bearing a similar name and pop-hued furniture in Jakarta, though May tells us they are not related. To cater to the area’s young crowd, May decorated her shop in mod art paintings and plays pop songs on the stereo. Hmm, nothing like the dusty roadside martabak stall we used to frequent in Jakarta. She says her customers here are 90 per cent Indonesians.
 

Pancake Boss: The Food
Pancake Boss: The Food
11 Nov 2015

Pancake Boss: The Food

(Left) Choco Rice & Cheese, $8.20
If you’re new to martabak manis, start with this classic combination out of the mind-boggling 25 flavours available. The exterior of our pancake crackles delicately, its fluffy honeycomb-textured body (a sign of good martabak manis) giving way to luscious melted grated Kraft cheese and chocolate sprinkles. As authentic as scarfing down Martabak Boss’ offering by the roadside in Jakarta. This ain’t cheap, but it feeds up to three people.


(Right) Matcha Kit Kat & Cheese, 10.50
Stuffed with chunks of matcha-flavoured Kit Kat, this unusual pairing turns out well. The slightly bitter tinge of green tea, sweet chocolate and savoury cheese is surprisingly moreish.
 

Pancake Boss: The Food
Pancake Boss: The Food
11 Nov 2015

Pancake Boss: The Food

Bossgato Avocado, $5.50
Wash down your pancake with this popular petite-sized Indonesian drink with an ang moh twist — blended avocado juice with gula melaka, espresso and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Tastes like a creamy smoothie with a slightly bitter, caffeinated kick.

BOTTOM LINE: A sweet, tasty snack that you don’t have to fly to Indonesia for. The kids will love this.
 

Churro 101
Churro 101
11 Nov 2015

Churro 101

#04-01 Bugis+, 201 Victoria St, S188067.
Open daily. 10am-10pm. Last orders at 9.30pm. www.facebook.com/churro101sg

We thought churros were passé. Well, we thought wrong. This first overseas outpost of popular Korean churros chain, Churro 101, has been beset with snaking queues since it opened here a month ago.

Franchise owner, Audrey Tan, 28, and her camera-shy husband, Shen Jian Hui, 28, say they discovered these specialty churros while on a trip to Korea. “I was pregnant at the time and had very bad morning sickness, and for some reason, these churros were the only thing that comforted me,” says Audrey, adding that the churros she tried back home did not come close to these. So to export the brand, they brought in the same Spanish-made churro machines used in Korea that pipe fresh batter into oil and trained for weeks there learning how to make these crispy, doughy treats. There are plans for another outlet at 313 Somerset, but that will be a takeaway stand unlike this cozy cafe-style 20-seater at Bugis+.

ON THE MENU: The plain and chocolate-coated ones are about a whopping 30cm long and the filled churros are about 17cm. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret of the parent company, and lies in a special dry churros mix that the Singapore team turns into dough daily, making fresh churros to order, so they’re nice and crispy. It’s about a five minute wait for a churro. But when we visited, some people in the queue ordered 30 pieces each, much to the consternation of those waiting behind. Apparently, the wait can be as long as 45 minutes on weekends. The brand’s tongue-in-cheek tagline claims these churros are “better than a boyfriend”. Maybe, but we think boyfriends are less harmful to your hips.
 

Churro 101: The Churros
Churro 101: The Churros
11 Nov 2015

Churro 101: The Churros

Plain ($3.30)
We could binge all day on this naked churro. The plain churro is crisp, not greasy, and most importantly — has no trace of stale oil. It’s mildly savoury-sweet with a chewy, doughy interior and is good enough without any sugar, though the Sugar ($3.50) one has a pleasantly crunchy touch. We wolfed down an entire one within minutes and had room for a few more. This needs little adornment but the flavoured churros (below) are worth the indulgence.

Cream Cheese ($4.70)
Of the three types of filled churros, this is our favourite. The cream cheese in this number is tangy, smooth and goes wonderfully with the slightly salty, crunchy churro batter. A little too jelak after a while, though. There’s also a decent Milk Custard ($4.50), with a creamy, condensed milk-like filling which we imagine would be awesome with a cup of local kopi.

Dark Chocolate ($5.40)
Churros are traditionally dipped in a mug of hot chocolate (sadly no such option here, as they’re phasing this out even in the Korean outlets). But this one is pre-dunked for you: a rich blanket of softly-set dark chocolate made from choc imported from Korea that’s bittersweet and nutty. A really delicious and complex snack. Also comes rolled in dried Coconut Sprinkles ($5.90), which we love for its little bursts of fragrant nutty flavour. Apparently, the Strawberry Crunches ($5.90) are very good, but they were sold out when we visited.

BOTTOM LINE: Would we queue for this? Yes and no. We hate lining up, but these fabulous churros are a real treat, so we might pop by in the mornings before the lines get crazy.
 

The Bao Makers
The Bao Makers
11 Nov 2015

The Bao Makers

78 Horne Rd, S209078. Tel: 6291-2330. Open daily. Mon-Fri 11am-9pm; Sat 10am-10pm; Sun 10am-6pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing. www.baomakers.com

Bao filled with funky fillings seem to be making waves in cool cities like New York (such as food show host Eddie Huang’s edgy hole-in-the-wall, Baohaus, which we tried and liked) and London (trendy restaurant Bao, which inspired this local eatery).

At The Bao Makers, a pretty cafe in the hipster Jalan Besar area, the young owners thought that the same concept — albeit tweaked with Singaporean-inspired fillings — would fly. Siblings Pang Wei Jian, 25, Pang Su Ting, 20, Pan Su Yi, 28 and her fiancé, Eugene Ng, 28, are behind the sleek and comfortable, if slightly generic-looking 40-seater. The space takes over desssert shop, Windowsill Pies.

ON THE MENU: We’re told the bao here is made in a more Taiwanese style, with buns the owners say are fluffier and mildly sweeter than your average kong bak pau. The group tinkered with different flour compositions and finally settled on a custom mix that they outsource to a supplier to make, steaming them fresh in their own kitchen. They’re pretty big, and while they’re softer than usual and have a nice, mild flavour, we don’t find them especially pillowy. Each order comes with two bao. Apart from bao, there’s other generic cafe grub like pastas and very decent coffee made with Common Man Coffee Roasters beans ($7 for a robust Iced Cafe Latte).
 

The Bao Makers: The Buns
The Bao Makers: The Buns
11 Nov 2015

The Bao Makers: The Buns

Classic ($12 for two)
Filled with fatty chunks of braised pork, this is fairly fail-safe. Except at these prices, we expected a kick-ass kong bak pau. But this has too much five-spice powder and the pork could be more sinfully melty. Our biggest beef is the lack of sauce drenching the bao’s insides.

Chilli Crab (above left, $16 for two)
Chunks of fleshy crab tossed in a spicy-sweet chilli sauce are wedged within a deep-fried bun. We like the combination of sharp spiciness, tender crab and crunchy bun. But when our editor visited, only a tiny amount of crab covered half her bun, which was dripping in grease. And the generic chilli paste tasted almost nothing like chilli crab gravy to her. At least she got her bun replaced with a more generously filled one after some feedback.

Salted Egg Shrimp ($15)
We like the rich, fragrant curry leaf scented salted egg sauce enrobing these bouncy prawns. Pity they were over-fried and slightly dry.

Toro Toro Pudding (above right, $6)
Make room for dessert, specifically this milky custard set atop a layer of bittersweet caramel. It’s creamy, light and not at all cloying.

BOTTOM LINE: The setting is cute and so is the idea. But the hit-or-miss bao with patchy portion control need work.

Aloha Poké
Aloha Poké
11 Nov 2015

Aloha Poké

92 Amoy St, S069911. Tel: 6221-6565. Open daily except Sun. Mon-Sat 11.30am-2.30pm; 5pm-11pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing. www.facebook.com/alohapoke

It’s a food trend that’s apparently sweeping across California, but the humble poké (say poh-kay) bowl originated in Hawaii where it’s a beloved local favourite. Poké, which means “cut” in Hawaiian, actually refers to the cubes of marinated raw fish, turned into a chirashi-like bowl when served over seasoned rice.

Fortnight-old Aloha Poké specialises in this Hawaiian staple, which the owners — John Chen, 36, his wife Lee Yue Xian, 33 and Pal, 36 and his wife, Selene Ong, 33 — all bankers, first encountered everywhere on a holiday in Hawaii. They loved it so much they decided to open this swish 30-seater. It’s a cool, smart-looking space, like an upmarket tikki hut with little Hawaiian-inspired details. Lunch is the main deal here, where you can get customisable poké bowls. In the evening, it turns into a bar serving drinks and bar bites alongside the bowls. A tikki-inspired cocktail line-up is in the works.

ON THE MENU: Two types of fish, yellowfin tuna and salmon, are served in three different flavours: original, spicy and wasabi mayo. There’s a whole bunch of add-ons and customisable options for CBD health nuts, like chia seed and pomegranate. If you’re unsure, just get the Standard Bowl ($15.90), which comes with two servings of fish atop a green salad and rice of your choice. All flavours cost the same, and the only difference is size: a large bowl with three scoops is $19.90 and a small bowl with just one scoop is $11.90. For the rice base, we’d go for the nutty brown rice, which is roasted after being cooked for extra flavour. Not only is it healthier, but it’s tastier than the bland sushi rice which needs more seasoning.

Aloha Poké: The Food
Aloha Poké: The Food
11 Nov 2015

Aloha Poké: The Food

Original (above left, from $11.90)
We prefer the salmon, which is fattier and more tender than the tuna which has a slightly tough texture and mildly fishy edge. It’s dressed simply with soy sauce and sesame oil, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and scallions. But it’s a little too subtle, and lacks sweet and salty oomph. The fish is served atop copious amounts of rather plain salad, so the rice lurking beneath isn’t dressed by the sauce. Somehow the whole thing doesn’t come together, unlike the punchier poké at Rollie Olie.

Musubi (above right, $11.90 for six)
Little slices of spam are glazed in a teriyaki sauce and baked until caramelised, then perched on little fingers of sushi rice. Basically, spam sushi. The spam is nicely sticky and slightly crusty on the outside. Makes nice chewy mouthfuls with the rice. Yum. But it’s only available at night.

BOTTOM LINE: Apparently, the poké bowls here are made the authentic Hawaiian way, but we find the fish under seasoned and overwhelmed by too many vegetables. If we wanted our fish truly clean, we’d eat chirashi instead.
 

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