Fun with Food: 3 offbeat eateries to try this week

Dig into a flowerpot of pudding, shake up a Korean lunch box or, er, lift some weights while waiting for your sandwich.

1. Banana Tree
1. Banana Tree
18 May 2015

1. Banana Tree

26 KEONG SAIK RD, S089133, TEL: 6221-5020.
Open daily except Mon. Tue-Sat 11am-9pm; Sun noon-7pm. Last orders 30 min before closing. www.facebook.com/bananatreesg

Plates and bowls are so pre-Instagram era. At Banana Tree, your dessert comes dressed like a potted flower or a frying pan of hot coals. Even if it doesn’t end up satisfying your sweet tooth, your eyes (and social media feed) are certainly in for a treat. The popular dessert boutique with three branches in Seoul chose Singapore as its first international outpost. And it’s all thanks to Molly Hong, 29.  

1. Banana Tree
1. Banana Tree
18 May 2015

1. Banana Tree

The pretty Korean, who moved here three years ago, is pals with Banana Tree’s owner as their hubbies were university buddies. “So many cafés are doing the same thing, so I wanted to serve food in a fun way,” says Molly in fluent English (she used to work in customer service for Apple Singapore).

Observing that “Singaporean people like to take photos of food” (no, really?), Molly had a hunch that Banana Tree’s photogenic desserts would fly here. So she approached the Banana Tree boss, who had previously turned down countless requests to open franchises in China, and secured a master franchise for South-east Asia. The split-level café at Keong Saik is accented with banana-yellow tiles, chairs, and cross-section paintings of the fruit. But the real décor, however, is, well, in the pudding. 

1. Banana Tree: The Food
1. Banana Tree: The Food
18 May 2015

1. Banana Tree: The Food

Flower Paap ($6.50)
Despite the café’s name, there is only one banana-flavoured dessert and drink on the menu. This signature palm-sized Flower Pot Pudding (‘paap’ means ‘pot’ in Korean) consists of a not-too-sweet banana pudding, layered with chunks of fresh banana, bits of vanilla sponge cake and cream.

Inspired by the popular banana pudding from New York’s Magnolia Bakery, its texture is more like a tiramisu than a pudding per se. A carpet of ‘soil’ (crumbled Oreos) and colourful chocolate pebbles add crunchy texture. If you’re wondering how hygienic the plastic flowers on this are, don’t fret, they’re cleaned and tucked inside a fresh straw ‘stem’ before being stuck in the pot. Our fave sweet here.
 

1. Banana Tree: The Food
1. Banana Tree: The Food
18 May 2015

1. Banana Tree: The Food

Pot Bing Soo ($12.50) - Above left
This impressive pail of shaved ice is topped with Molly’s home-made red beans (which boast good bite), chopped almonds, Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and a cheery sunflower. You should literally dig in with the accompanying wooden spade and eat fast, before it all dilutes into slush. Wish the ice was milk-flavoured instead of plain, though.

Iced Matcha Som Som Latte ($7) - Above right
Diluted and underwhelming. A stronger, more bitter matcha would’ve balanced off that sugary cloud of freshly spun cotton candy better. It’s really photogenic, though. Also available in espresso (with banana or milk caramel), chai and chocolate flavours.

BOTTOM LINE: Decent desserts + cutesy presentation = an Instagram-worthy café the kids will love. No wonder it’s packed on weekends.
 

2. Do.Si.Rak
2. Do.Si.Rak
18 May 2015

2. Do.Si.Rak

#01-02, 18 CROSS ST, CHINA SQUARE CENTRAL.
Open daily except weekends 10.30am-6pm. Last orders 5pm; food pick-up till 6pm. www.dosirak.com.sg


Calorie-watching can be fun when you’re eating healthy bibimbap out of an ice cream pint box — and you’re asked to ‘play’ with your food. Edward, 27, and Eugene Chia, 24, grew up eating their Korean mum’s dosirak (‘lunch box’ in Korean) the way the Koreans do — by vigorously shaking a metal lunch box to mix up its contents of rice, vegetables and meats with gochujang (spicy bean paste). Noticing that nobody else serves grub this way in Singapore, the Singaporean-Korean brothers (dad is local) found a new way to literally shake up the food scene dominated by the same old Korean barbecue joints. Their family also owns a traditional Korean restaurant in Novena (they decline to reveal which one), which Edward, a trained 3D artist, oversees.
 

2. Do.Si.Rak
2. Do.Si.Rak
18 May 2015

2. Do.Si.Rak

Focusing on healthier fare, the boys worked with a nutritionist to ensure that each of their five dishes is below 500 calories. Veggies are lightly blanched or left raw to retain their nutrients. Marinades and sauces are based on their family recipes. “Commercial gochujang uses a lot of corn syrup, so we make our own with pureed pear and brown sugar instead,” explains Edward.

You can also design your own carton by picking five types of veggies or sides from a menu of at least 15, and a protein item (six options like salmon, sous vide beef, chicken or tofu and kimchi) with short-grain white rice. Or pay $1 more for whole-grain rice or Korean buckwheat noodles. Then shake it up, shake it up, with the house-made gochujang in pretty, specially-designed ice cream pint cartons. The tiny but stylish blue-and-white shop seats just 10, so it functions more as a takeaway joint. An online ordering system will soon be launched, so too new outlets at One North and Changi Business Park. 

2. Do.Si.Rak: The Food
2. Do.Si.Rak: The Food
18 May 2015

2. Do.Si.Rak: The Food

Beef Bulgogi ($8.90; 418.7kcal)
Instead of stringy beef, this version features fat slices of tender, flavourful slow-cooked chuck, which we enjoy. Our only, um, beef: despite the roominess of the fashionable carton which enabled the ingredients to dance around, our lusty shaking didn’t blend our nutty, warm brown rice and meat thoroughly with the beansprouts, red cabbage, spinach, onions, carrots and fruity gochujang sauce. We recommend some spirited stirring after all that shaking. Good thing the lid snaps on tight and nothing falls out when we open it.

2. Do.Si.Rak: The Food
2. Do.Si.Rak: The Food
18 May 2015

2. Do.Si.Rak: The Food

Salmon ($9.90; 441kcal)
We really like the thick slices of gravlax-style fresh salmon lightly cured in a simple spice mix that includes brown sugar, salt and pepper. The most interesting of our side dishes is the pan-fried egg. It tastes like regular omelette, except you get to choose pure egg white, pure egg yolk or a mix of both. Both the fluffy short-grain white and brown rice (the soba was sold out) are good when riotously mixed with all the ingredients.

BOTTOM LINE: The vigorous carton shaking is interesting lunch foreplay though it doesn’t serve its purpose. Still, the healthy, fairly tasty Korean food is enjoyable, especially the salmon.

3. Food.With.Benefits
3. Food.With.Benefits
18 May 2015

3. Food.With.Benefits

#B1-92 KATONG SHOPPING CENTRE, 865 MOUNTBATTEN RD, S437844. TEL: 6438-1918.
Open daily except Thur. 10.30am – 8pm. Last orders 7.30pm. www.facebook.com/Foodwithbenefit

A café so serious about serving wholesome fare it has a workout corner… for you to work off your carefully balanced meal? Three twentysomething gym buddies (together with two other partners) are sizzling up the retro Katong Shopping Centre with their bulging biceps and protein pastries. “We’re very particular about the nutrients in our food. But we don’t believe in no carbs or no fat; they’re bad for you only if you eat them excessively,” says Dion Lo, 26, a NTU psychology grad. What their café offers: balanced meals like sandwiches, salads, desserts and protein smoothies. Each dish is labelled with its calorie count, and cooked using healthier methods like steaming and grilling. “To satisfy our sweet tooth, we also bake our own pastries, but with protein powder, less flour and sugar,” says Chan Manquan, 26, a former sales manager.
 

3. Food.With.Benefits
3. Food.With.Benefits
18 May 2015

3. Food.With.Benefits

The cosy 15-seat shop is found alongside maid agencies and tuition centres. Scrawled in chalk on one wall is the eternal question: ‘Why are you fat?’ Beneath that is an explanation of how to calculate your total daily energy expenditure. To add to the gym rat vibe: a couple of weights at the ‘Mini Workout Corner’ lets you burn off your meal. (We stayed put in our seats, thank you very much).

Plus, there’s an ongoing contest that’s a bit of a hoot: if you can squeeze a 200-pound (90kg) resistance hand grip for 30 seconds straight, your meal is on the house. We didn’t manage even one second. “So far, nobody has lasted more than a few seconds,” says Travis Ho, 27, a strapping sports science grad and former lifeguard. “Well, except the owners!” 

3. Food.With.Benefits: The Food
3. Food.With.Benefits: The Food
18 May 2015

3. Food.With.Benefits: The Food

Salsa Pork Stew ($8.90; 499 calories)
We like this tangy, lightly-spiced dish of tender pork simmered in pureed tomatoes, capsicums, onions and a touch of jalapeno. Served with salad drizzled with apple cider vinegar, toasted sesame seed and extra virgin olive oil dressing. Goes well with the rather tasty house-baked focaccia scented with oregano and rosemary.

3. Food.With.Benefits: The Food
3. Food.With.Benefits: The Food
18 May 2015

3. Food.With.Benefits: The Food

Muffins ($3; 199-258 calories), Cookies ($1.70 each; 101-116 calories) and Brownies ($3.50; 226 calories)
We couldn’t really taste the protein powder in these bakes, thankfully. The signature Cranberry Lemon Muffin packs plenty of zest and every bite yields a cranberry. Though it’s moist enough, its texture is slightly too dense. The crunchy, tangy White Choc Cranberry Pistachio Cookies aren’t bad either. Skip the dry, hard brownie.

BOTTOM LINE: The workout concept is gimmicky and we aren’t fans of the protein pastries, but we’ll return for the value-for-money main courses.  

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