By Elaine Ee
There was a time in Singapore when you had to go to a fine dining restaurant if you wanted anything close to an authentic meal that was not localor Southeast Asian cuisine.
Now, another breed of restaurants is growing to reach the same, food-loving audience: small to medium-size independent restaurants that focuson delivering delicious, authentic food.
These are simple eateries, often casual and homey, that pride themselves on making food just like it's prepared "back home."
Pizza dough made by hand with proper flour, just as it is done inItaly; squid is sizzled on the grill as it is in Greece; wasabi is freshlygrated as it is in Japan.
People who know their food are flocking to these restaurants, for a meal that is as good if not in some ways more satisfying than a posh one.
They're also spreading the word.
Let Maeda's chef Hiraoki serve up his catch of the day.Transports you to: Japanese dining capital, Osaka, which is also home to chef Maeda Hiraoki. The restaurant is, as they like to say, minimalist, bordering on austere, with dining cubicles and the obligatorycounter. There aren't many tables so reservations are a must.
Must-try: Omakase or kaiseki -- this is almost like a degustation menu except you don't know what you'll be getting. Chef Hiraoki will put together his choice of dishes, based on the best and freshest produce he's got in that day, what he thinks is good and yourpreference and budget.
Highlights of our omakase were oysters in a light, ponzu sauce; the sweetest garlic clove with mentaiko sauce and a grilled, non-spicy, pepper;a delicate piece of corn nicely balanced with the bite of rock salt; andudon noodles with a broth so delicious we slurped it all down.
To complete the experience: One of their many sakes. Maeda calls itself a sake bar first and then a restaurant, and there is reason for that. Their sake selection is excellentand can be paired with the food, if you wish. Good thing taxis are easy to getin this neighborhood.
467 Joo Chiat Road;+65 6345 0745
Bruno's Pizzeria & Grill
Even mamma would approve of a meal at Bruno's.Transports you to: A trattoria in Italy. Family-run, thissmall restaurant that appeared on the scene some months ago is packed everysingle night. It's low-key, down-to-earth and serves the most authentic Italianfood we've ever had in Singapore (yes, it's even better than Valentino's). Bookwell ahead.
Must-try: Honestly, everything is goodhere. The menu is big, with appetizers, pizzas, pastas, main courses and somedesserts. You don't have to go for the fancy mains here to get somethingspecial, just the basic dishes -- which many restaurants don't pay enoughattention to -- are fabulous.
Tomato bruschetta, for example, comes heaving with the sweetest,just-ripe enough tomatoes and full of garlic; the humble vongole is rich andsavory (the sauce was so delicious we just drank it); and the pizza is justperfect. The dough is tasty on its own, and the tomato sauce base has got theperfect twist of sweet and salty. They also do white pizzas.
To complete the experience: Talk to Bruno, the owner. He knows his food is good, and he tellsit like it is. We asked him to recommend a pasta and he said, "every pasta isdifferent so it is impossible to recommend one, it depends on what you like. Soyou decide."
338 Tanjong KatongRoad, +65 6440 4525
Authentic greek food in Singapore at Blu Kouzina.Transports you to: A Greek taverna. With its white andblue Mediterranean colors, lots of wood and Greek paraphernalia in a cozyspace, this restaurant is warm, welcoming and very busy. Just to give you anidea of how busy it can get, we had to book our table two weeks in advance.
Must-try: We don't think anything herewill disappoint but these are worth putting at the top of the list: the lambchops and the fresh squid, both beautifully grilled with olive oil and lemon;the (very rich) moussaka; kefalotiri psito (baked cheese) with fig sauce; andvine leaves stuffed with rice.
Olive oil is used abundantly here and you can bet it's only thebest extra virgin variety. Except for a few exotic Greek items, the ingredientsused are exceptionally fresh -- which really makes all the difference.
To complete the experience: Sit outside. There are tables inside on the ground and top floor,but get a table outside if you can. The alfresco area is set back enough fromthe traffic on Bukit Timah Road and if the weather's right, can actually makeyou feel like you're on a bit of a break.
893 Bukit Timah Road;+65 6875 0872
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