January 21, 2015

Food Review: O.BBa

Following my review on Palsaik Samgyupsal in Seoul and Seoul BBQ Buffet in Perth, I only think it's fair that I wrote something about the Korean Barbeque scene in Singapore. Since the Korean popularity boom, Singapore has seen a huge amount of Korean specialty grocery stores increasing all around, making it easy for the kimchi lover (like myself) to obtain Korean food and snacks. Needless to say, Korean restaurants of all sorts opening all over our little island - the most prevalent of all, doubtless, are the Korean BBQ restaurants. Ask anyone who loves Korean food and immediately they can name up to five Korean-styled BBQ eateries in various locations with various specialties.

A little unbelievable to many, perhaps, since the idea of sitting around a hot pan frying various meats is not an ideal way to cooling off in the humidity and heat of Singapore.

Personally, I have tried a few Korean-styled BBQ restaurants, some cheap, some expensive, all serving around the same things - but none of them have enticed me to return for any reason. 

Until I tried O.BBa.

O.BBa is different. I am writing this because I have returned to O.BBa four times since me and my friends first had dinner there late last year. My friend recommended it to us at whim since we were in the Tanjong Pajar area, and we have yet to stop wanting to go back when the craving for Korean cuisine strikes us. 

Firstly I have to admit, that O.BBa needs more exposure. Competition is stiff, and O.BBa is not a large restaurant, so it actually does need exposure and word-of-mouth recommendations. If you have ever been to the roads of Tanjong Pajar, there are plenty of Korean restaurants lining the streets - most of whom are always filled with people, and then some. For some reason, O.BBa's crowd is manageable despite the dinner rush, even on Friday evenings. I've always found it strange, since even some of the worse restaurants in the area have larger crowds then this humble little shop.

Secondly, I think if I've been here four times, it's a pretty clear sign for me to write a bloody review.

As with all, if not most, Korean restaurants, you get the usual fix-ins once you get situated in. Depending on the lady boss, and head chef of O.BBa, these assorted sorts of kimchi will vary. Of course, the standard nappa cabbage kimchi will remain a constant. O.BBa will serve up to eight dishes and gladly refill them should you overdose on your appetizers. 

My favorite, other than the standard cabbage kimchi, is the long beans (or french beans, or green beans) kimchi - which is not spicy at all but extremely addictive, and the forever lovely, crunchy-delicious mung bean sprouts. During my last visit, we also tried some variations in the form of preserved diced oyster mushrooms, crunchy and tangy with bursts of spiciness. You will also get some in the form of seaweed, or chives, and perhaps even brinjal. We indulged in these dishes with gusto, while sipping on chumchurum and waiting anxiously for our meals to arrive. 

All delicious, all different, with one similar, sole purpose of whetting your appetite for the meats headed your way. Boy did they.

We ordered up a set meal, the Special Beef Set, which costs $99. It comes with a small hotpot soup of your choice (we had the spicy kimchi soup), a similar sized steamed egg dish, five different cuts of beef with sliced oyster mushrooms and onions for grilling, finished with a complimentary bingsu, or shaved ice dessert. 

Additionally, we also ordered a side of jap chae and yuk hwe, since it was a table of four hungry, hungry ladies.

The steamed egg has always been the first to arrive all the times I've been here, and this time it was no different. A more rustic version of the Japanese Chawanmushi, less silken then the Chinese egg custad, the steamed eggs are kept warm and inflated like a pseudo-souffle within the hotpot as presented, with speckles of red and green peppering the top in the form of spring onions and carrots. It's a simple dish, lightly flavored, hot and comforting.

The Jap Chae also arrived - a plateful of sweet potato noodles stir fried with crunchy slivers of various vegetation, semi-soft cabbage, meat of your choice (pork, beef or chicken), topped with toasted sesame seeds. Aromatic sesame oil, soy sauce with a big punch of sweetness from added sugar and the sweet potato noodles, or dangmyeon. To be honest, this was ordered as a filler since we were waiting for the meat to be ready, but I personally think it's too delicious to even be called a side dish.

Our meat platter arrived, and as the server started the fire for cooking, we feasted on our sides and our appetisers, watching the server deftly light the charcoal, and another who started setting our table for the meat time. Several sauces were placed on either side of us, small dishes of chilli paste, marinated raw onions and dipping oil. 

We chatted as the charcoal heated up, and once it was, the server flipped a grill lid on to the flames, scattering the onions and mushrooms around it, waiting for the grill to heat up properly before he could apply the raw meat. It was safe to say we may have scared several servers with our extremely boisterous, almost uncontainable excitement as he started putting meat to hot grill.

Before we go into the meats, let me actually go into the meats for you. 

As I mentioned, we ordered the Special Beef Set, a slightly pricier version since it was four of us this time, allowing for five cuts of raw beef. Two of which were marinated in special sauce, and all of which had varying sizes and slices. I'm not too good with my beef cuts (I'm good for eating them, however), but I'm going to attempt to identify them for you, dear readers, and should you find anything wrong, please feel free to correct me. 

Our beef platter included: 
- Galbi, marinated beef rib, bone, rolled in sauce and last to be cooked on the pan. 
- Chadolbaegi, sliced beef brisket,  curls of it often being iconic in most Korean grills and barbeques. 
- Deungshim, a whole, heavy, succulent rib-eye steak.

The remaining two meats, I simply don't know what cuts they are - one being marinated and one not. I do think that the marinated beef cubes are perhaps brisket as well, or some tougher cut as marination in Korean food is done for the tougher cuts. The other, also served in smaller bites, is intensely marbled and delicious on its own when cooked.

As the first batch of meats went on the pan, we also saw the arrival of the Yuk Hwe - a Korean version of beef tartare, raw beef mince served with sesame oil, soy sauce, a raw egg yolk and either nashi pear or apple slices. It would be mixed well, then served cold. 

I love, love, love this. The best still comes from Perth's Seoul BBQ Buffet, of course, but this was not too shabby. The beef mince was fresh with no aftertaste, with a lot of texture since it was not minced too fine - thick slices of pear, strong hints of raw garlic and silky egg yolk keeping it all together. Some of the versions I've had are served with pine nuts, or without raw garlic, and perhaps even sliced or minced more fine, but O.BBa's version is lovely with an enormous amount of freshness and flavor with no raw aftertaste. 

I did lament the missing pine nuts, but this was bolstered by the fresh meat and lovely pears of the dish.

As we went full speed ahead with the meal, I have little to say about the rest of the meats since absolutely all of them were delicious. The meats were not frozen, and if they were, they have been defrosted to room temperature to ensure the right cooking time and the absolute amount of taste and freshness. Along with the tiny pot of garlic, softened onions and slightly charred mushroom slices - pile anything you fancy into the provided greens, have it with any sauce, since the creation of any taste sensation is possible for these meats.

If I had to nit-pick, it would be that we didn't have enough meat. Additionally, that the marinated meats were not as exciting for me as the cuts left alone. However, I think that's a matter of personal preference, but whatever preference you have towards beef or meat, O.BBa's meat platters will not disappoint you.

Seriously, the amount of marbling I saw on the raw cuts of beef steaks and slices were a good indication to me of the food served here. There is little more satisfying than the white strips of fat turn translucent and liquid over charcoal heat.

We were so absolutely devouring the meats that we almost didn't leave any chance for the server to come in and change the pan (He succeeded, in the end, after fearing for his life and fingers). I have to say their service is unequivocally Korean - they paid attention to the food and meats more then the customer, ensuring that we, ultimately, did not f**k up the cargo with over enthusiastic cooking. 

Woe betide, he or she who manages to burn their Korean BBQ meats.

Finally, after all the meat was cleared, and all of us reclined in our seats and started having the meat sweats (don't ask, don't google), our server made quick work of cleaning up the table and asking us if we would like our dessert. I had almost forgotten at this stage about the bingsu, but was not too fussed.

Essentially, as I had some of the dessert, it was shaved ice with various sorts of toppings on it. Ours was red beans, pineapples, some sort of sweet sauce, and rainbow sprinkles. I can't say much more on this, since it tastes about as uninteresting as I described it to be. If this was to be bingsu, which it was supposed to be, the ice definitely needed to be shaved better and the toppings given much more Korean elements in terms of variety.

With the very weird bingsu, we ended our meal with a bill of $180, which included one beef platter set meal with the fix-ins, one yuk hwe dish, one jap chae dish, and a bottle of chumchurum soju. Split four ways, that amounted to about $45 for a person.

Also, one should note that this establishment closes late. I turned up once, after 10 in the night - and the server did not even blink, quickly showing us to our booth. She mentioned that they close around 1am, but it may change. I don't actually even have an official closing or opening time for O.BBa, but I do hope you visit!

O.BBa can be located at:

63 Tanjong Pagar Road
Singapore 088484


January 19, 2015

Food Review: TWG Tea Singapore

I find tea to be a balm for many things and events in my life.

It's hard to say when I started loving tea, but it never occurred to me how important it was in my life until I had to go without it. I had opened my pantry on a fateful winter afternoon to find that I had forgotten to replenish my teas, and it was at that moment - while looking woefully between my pantry and my little plate of shortbread biscuits - I realized that it had wormed its way into my life without me even knowing it.

In Singapore, tea is easily accessible. Whether you drink it posh with fancy sugar cubes and beautiful silverware while looking up into the nose of a snooty butler, or out of a plastic bag from a bustling coffee shop bought from a man or woman with the voice range of a banshee, tea is not difficult to find and can be found in many forms, catered to your every whim.

To start off my review officially, let me tell you one thing: TWG Tea at Takashimaya made me very upset when it first opened its doors.

The reason being it had taken over the lot previously occupied by Royal Copenhagen Tea House - which was my absolute favorite when it came to tea-time. It remains one of my deep regrets in my life to not have written about Royal Copenhagen more, more so now that it cannot be found in Singapore (please let me know if you have information leading to this being in the contrary), and I transferred much of that regret into an automated disdain for the TWG Tea establishment in its place. It was unfair to them and to be honest I did not care much for being unfair or for them.

So of course I did a review today.

If I had to describe TWG Tea, it would simply with the word Gold. They love the color. Even their menus' (all three of them including a Tea Book) literature are exceedingly fancy. Their decor is lavish and blindingly posh - reminiscent of Victorian accents as you sit and listen to the delicate tinkle of spoons against tea cups and find yourself inhaling the permeating scent of teas from their iconic tea wardrobe, stocked to the brim with lovely tins of tea leaf blends as the sunlight fills up the parlor in the laze of mid-afternoon.

I'm not even mention their ten million chandeliers.

As it was tea-time, TWG Tea in Takashimaya Ngee Ann City was slowly filling up with customers seeking refuge from the mid-day heat and the bustle of a busy shopping mall. Tired feet and parched throats find themselves here with a hankering for teas iced and hot, and maybe even a sweet treat or two to sooth frazzled nerves from the crowd.

Me and my tea-time partner were no different - so we ordered up TWG's Tea Set Menu, which included an assortment of three finger sandwiches (it doesn't involve fingers for fillings) and salad, two scones served with creme fraiche and jam, with a pot of tea for one. We also added some macaroons, which were added to the tiered display, Earl Grey and Chocolate, Matcha and Rose Macaroon. 


I have to admit the presentations were very lovely - time was taken to ensure this presentation was to standard. As I chatted with my partner I observed the server calmly arrange macaroons onto the plate, and with careful inspection, wiped around the plate to ensure there were no stray crumbs on the pristine white plate. He finally placed the tier on our table, sliding it just so to ensure it sat perfectly between us and arranged the three individual plates. The server was either well-trained or extremely meticulous; both of which I appreciated.

I felt like I was watching something out The Grand Budapest Hotel.

For tea, we had two different pots, mine being the Bodhi Dharma Tea - an ethereal blend of black tea and Chinese green tea leaves. The other was a pot of tea named the Ace of Hearts Tea, which was a blend of South African Rooibos and Ceylon. Again, care was taken when the server was preparing the tea, as they both had different preparation methods, amounts of tea leaves and steeping time. As our server poured a small amount into the two shallow tea cups, the teas showed their difference immediately through the intensity of color and aroma.

At first sip, tea-time officially began.

We started with the scones - warm and served, again, in delicate chinaware, with fresh clotted cream and tea jam. Both condiments are subtle in flavor, never to overpower each other but to work together on a buttery, crumbly surface of this simple, classic confectionery. 

I am glad they did not serve the scones with butter, which would have been quite a waste and to me, a faux pas committed by many establishments, plus TWG Tea had access to a lovely tea jam under their label, so they may as well use it for serving. The light cream, you will find, soon melts over the surface of the scone as is absorbed - softening the dense pastry and adding the slightest sweetest to it.

TWG Tea is quite known for their varieties of macaroons - extensive flavors are often seen arranged according to color and flavor being sold in TWG Teas' many franchises around Singapore - and this is also apparent in the Takashimaya outlet. Uniformed rows of beautiful pastel colors, lovingly made and then arranged in the display for customers to peruse. 

As I mentioned, we added several to our tea-time menu - but there are many flavors, from fruit to mint, all going well with hot tea, since most of the flavors were probably inspired by their tea blends. We both especially the Earl Grey Chocolate Macaroon, and we ended up with one each. I first had this flavor a few years ago as a gift from a friend, and I loved the airy shell, crumbly with a slight chew, the ganache tasting of deep dark chocolate with an aftertaste and scent of pleasant Earl Grey leaves. 

I took a bite, and had a sip of my Bodhi Dharma, now cooled and even lovelier. It was quite the experience for my palate.

The non-finger finger sandwiches, an assortment of three, were passable - not impressive as sandwiches but not bad enough for me to not want them. Cucumber, Foie Gras, a few slices of chicken on buttered toast, the basic condiments for simple sandwiches. The salad was a filler, albeit overdressed, a nice touch to give you the illusion of value for money. 

I didn't hate it, but it didn't make much of an impression - they didn't particularly go well with the tea as well, so I was not very interested in them.

As we enjoyed our treats, we were interrupted by the addition of new items to the massive dessert cart we were seated right next to (both a blessing and curse perhaps), and found ourselves immediately intrigued by this moss green, jello looking dessert. I relented to my curiosity and asked the server about the new dessert. He explained that it was not actually jello, but actually a mousse coated in pistachio jelly, so we went ahead and decided to try one.

There were, of course, other desserts added with this green wonder - several large blueberry tarts, and a purple dome similar to the pistachio. There were also the daily treat TWG Tea calls their Tea-Infused King's Cake, which visually reminded me of the French Tarte Tatin.

I'll admit the color is intriguing, but pistachio makes sense. As we dug into it, the pistachio element was strong, also apparent in the mousse encased within. It also revealed, in the middle of the light green cream, a bright red middle of raspberry coulis with a bottom layer of thin sponge with chocolate cereal pops. In one bright green dome, I experienced quite a few textures, which was always appreciated in desserts.

I liked it. It was quite elegant as a dessert, light and a little pretentious with the right amount of sweet and tart, with nothing overwhelming - just like tea.

You will notice, that I mentioned several additions - this one was the last. A Strawberry Shortcake, also present in the dessert cart and disappearing rapidly once it was displayed.

A generous, lush rectangle of big, sweet strawberries immortalized in vanilla-scented, speckled cream, with two buttery almond butter pastries, then further topped with berries of several kinds. Sweet, perhaps even cloyingly so, but with bursts of freshness from the huge chunks of strawberries; a classic tea-time dessert for many. As well as visually attractive, it was also one of the nicer strawberry shortcake variations I've tasted so far. I've had several strawberry shortcakes, the nicest from a Japanese Patisserie, and some really not so great ones which either focus too much on berries or too much on sponge. 

I really liked this tart-cake hybrid. I even ate the strawberries. I personally, am not a berries person (they freak me out) and don't particularly like berries of any sort but this went down a treat. 

I have to admit, attention to detail was quite good in TWG Tea, especially in terms of service. We initially had a different server, a Filipino (he is in one the above photos) who seemed to be asleep on his feet and not really listening to me at all when I asked for sparkling water, but someone else stepped in and saved the day. I only mention his ethnicity because the person who stepped in was also a Filipino, a lovely lady and a bespectacled, smiley, Chinese guy (both not pictured) who saw my slight pause when I spoke to their unfocused, sulky colleague and thankfully did not share his lack of service attitude.

We paid a little over $90 for our tea-time, but it was quite a lot of desserts, and two very lovely pots of tea. 

Do I miss Royal Copenhagen? With all my heart - but perhaps I have gotten over my unhappiness towards TWG Tea. 

TWG Tea Takashimaya can be located at: 

Takashimaya Singapore, 
391 Orchard Road, 
Level 2 
Singapore 238873

Mon-Sun: 930AM to 930PM