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Jan 2, 2008 12:18 AM

Hai Tien Lo, Singapore

Hai Tien Lo, on the 37th floor of the opulent Pan Asian Hotel, is noteworthy for the service and the view (both *wonderful*), but less so for the food -- at least based on the narrow selection of the menu I was able to try. The huge caveat is that I may have missed out on the restaurant's specialties, since I was dining with a friend who dislikes seafood in almost all its forms, and extraordinarily fresh seafood is such a signature part of Cantonese cuisine.

We had an eclectic (ok, mismatched) meal of:

corn and lobster soup
chilled crab salad over ice
the combination platter of roasted / barbecued meats
new zealand rack of lamb in cocoa sauce
mango cream with grapefruit
a bottle of the shiraz house pour

The soup came with some generous chunks of lobster, but was a bit bland. It would have been better with a richer broth, less corn starch, and perhaps some scallions and a dab of sesame oil... but I digress. The chilled crab salad was tasty. Crab purists (like my parents) would probably complain about the pure taste of the crab being obscured by the stronger tastes of ginger, scallion, and dressing. But my parents failed to raise me better, so I liked it.

The combination platter came with roasted pork, roasted duck, and crispy pork skin. All were competent; the duck was luscious. It had a subtle smokey flavor and was wonderfully juicy.

The lamb was perfectly tender and obviously a high quality cut, but it really would have benefited from brining or marinating. It wasn't really tied in to the flavor of the mole-esque cocoa sauce it was served with. The sauce was obviously ladled on (in a bit overly generous portions) after the lamb had been cooked, like an afterthought.

The house pour shiraz was surprisingly nice, though we settled on it only after finding out that our first two choices were down in storage somewhere, and would take some digging to retrieve. I wish I'd written down the vineyard name. I just remember it was Australian... a McLaren Vale, I think...

The mango cream was delightful: light, fragrant and refreshing. I could drink gallons (or litres) of it.

The service was probably the most stellar part of the dinner, though. The wait staff was attentive without being intrusive, wonderfully friendly and accomodating. Food was brought very quickly and we lingered over dinner without feeling like they were hurrying us out in any way.

I can't wait to come back to try some of the seafood offerings.

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  1. Thanks for these posts, cimui - I've been following them closely - I have two layovers in Singapore coming up (well, ok, I specifically constructed my itinerary so that I would have layovers in Singapore) , and am trying to figure out what to eat. Hoping you find and report on some delicious murtabak and chwee kueh...

    19 Replies
    1. re: daveena

      Hi Daveena, I love running into you all over the (Chowhound) world! I'm still sort of in awe of your marathon dining in NYC. I have no doubt you'll do just as well in Singapore.

      To tell you the truth, I didn't really find any stellar murtabek or chwee kueh establishments in Singapore. I had a decent murtabek at a stall across from Tien Tien in the Maxwell Food Center. The number was probably in the 40s or so. It's across a walkway from a fruit drink / soy milk drink stall. The real star at the stand was roti canai, but they will make you murtabek if you ask.

      I didn't get to try chwee kueh at all (possibly because I never really worked up an appetite before noon)! But here's what the Internet says:

      "The most famous chwee kueh stall in Singapore has to be the one at Tiong Bahru Market."

      The Internet never lies, you know.

      1. re: cimui

        Yes, I agree the chwee kueh in Tiong Bahru is pretty good. I am not a big fan of murtabak in Singapore; I personally prefer the murtabak version from Jakarta.

        1. re: cimui

          Hee. I'm still trying to lose the last few pounds from that NYC trip. Unfortunately, everything they say about metabolisms after 30 is true. Anyway,I'm following you to the South Asia board for your Chennai recs next :)

          FourSeasons - what's the difference between Indonesian and Sinaporean murtabak? Also, I found my old post on the murtabak I had in 2001 and have been obsessing about since - can you help me figure out what this place is?
          "fantastic murtabak near the Joo Chiat Complex, on Changi Road as the sprawl of the complex fades out "

          The other one I'm curious about is the one at Singapore Zam Zam (it was listed in a Saveur article on Singapore food last year).

          Also, looks like I did in fact have chwee kueh at Tiong Bahru... I'll probably have to go back. The one in the Saveur article is Ghim Moh Chwee Kway - any opinions?

          1. re: daveena

            The Singapore Murtabak is quite thin, not much ingredient but the Indonesia Murtabak is really rich and greasy with dairy, chocolate, peanuts sauce etc etc.

            I am not familiar with Joo Chiat Complax so not able to advise on this one. I have no idea what Zam Zam is too. Are you sure you get the right word? The one thing I can think of is Gong Gong, a type of local shellfish that is available in some seafood stores in Newton and Geylang that you dip into sweet chilli sauce. And have not heard or tried the Ghim Moh Chwee Kway as well. The only one I tried is in Tiong Bahru Market.

            1. re: FourSeasons

              Are the chocolate and peanut in the dipping sauce, are spread into the murtabak itself?

              Sorry, I wasn't clear - Singapore Zam Zam is the name of a murtabak stand that was featured in a magazine article. But Gong Gong sounds tasty... maybe I need to put that on my list too.

              Will have more questions as my trip draws near... thanks!

              1. re: daveena

                I think you're referring to Zam Zam Restaurant at North Bridge Road, across the road from the Sultan Mosque (nearest MRT station: Bugis). It's an Indian-Muslim spot which serves spicy chicken/fish briyani rice, and also does a mean murtabak (with either mutton or chicken filling). It's really hot, noisy & cluttered downstairs, so I'd recommend the slightly more comfortable air-conditioned dining area on the second floor.

                BTW, the martabak manis in Jakarta (which FourSeasons referred to) is a thick, cholesterol-laden pancake with a rich filling of chocolate sprinkles, crushed peanuts/cashews, grated Cheddar cheese, sweetened condensed milk & lots of Dutch butter. It's absolutely delicious & the best spot in Jakarta is at Jl Pecenongan (where the stall also sells martabak asin, which is similar to Singapore's savoury meat-and-egg filled murtabaks).

                All this talk about murtabak is making me hungry, I'm currently in Oakland, CA, for two weeks, tried the Indian food at the Breads of India today and it was simply awful!

                1. re: klyeoh

                  Thanks! Looks like Zam Zam is worth the trip (esp since there's no way I could find the place I went to the first time). I suppose I'll have to make my way over to Indonesia one of these days...

                  Sorry you wasted a meal at Breads of India! There's so much good food in Oakland - hope the rest of your meals are more successful (I know you posted a few questions a while ago and got some good answers, but feel free to have us fill in any gaps in your itinerary!)

                  1. re: daveena

                    Thanks, Daveena. BTW, if you want to try some really good nasi briyani when you're in Singapore, you should try Famous Islamic Restaurant - it's located at 795 North Bridge Road, just a block down from Zam Zam (which is 697 North Bridge Rd). For some good Malay-style nasi Padang, Hajjah Maimunah (11 Jalan Pisang) is just round the corner from Zam Zam.

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      klyeoh, you're answering my questions before I even ask them :) Thanks for all the addresses and MRT station info. Looks like I have one layover itinerary covered. Am I right in thinking these are all free-standing restaurants, not hawker stalls? And that all these things should be available throughout the day? My first layover is 2PM to 8 PM, and the second is 5:30 AM to 1:30 PM, so I'm thinking about doing the Famous Islamic/Zam Zam/ Hajjah Maimunah cluster on my first layover, and hunting for carrot cake and chwee kueh (any other morning-ish foods I should focus on?) on the second layover. I'd like to get some laksa, too...

                      1. re: daveena

                        Hey Daveena, try Ah Balling (or Tan Yuan), glutinous rice ball soup. The balls are typically filled with black sesame, peanut, green tea, or red bean paste, in a gingery or peanuty soup. Delicious. There's one in the Chinatown area market (Smith St.?) that's pretty good, but the vendor is really grouchy.

                        klyeoh or FourSeasons probably know where to find the tastiest version!

                        1. re: daveena

                          Famous Islamic/Zam Zam/ Hajjah Maimunah are all free-standing restaurants which are opened throughout the day.

                          For chwee kueh, the best option that I can think of is FourSeasons' recommendation at Tiong Bharu Food Centre. As you go up the main escalator (the food stalls are all on the second floor), the chwee kueh stall is located towards the left. The first stall to the right of the escalator offers quite good fried carrot cake.

                          cimui's recommendation for Ah Balling at Chinatown Complex is good if you're into sweet Chinese-style desserts.

                          If you'd like wanton noodles Singapore-style for breakfast, you can try Fei Fei at Xin Hua Coffeeshop, 64 Joo Chiat Place, which is opened from 8am daily. After that, take a short walk down to East Coast Road (Katong) where you can find coffee shops selling local coffee & kaya toasts. But if you're still looking for something more substantial, you can try genuine Singapore-style Katong laksa at either No. 49 or No. 51 East Coast Road.

                          A taxi ride from Changi Airport to Joo Chiat/Katong takes only 15 minutes.

                          1. re: daveena

                            klyeoh is right on the spot in the description of Murtabak Indonesia version. The one at Jln kecenongan is the best; however, I will not recommend any tourist to go there due to hygiene reasons. The street hawker food is Jakarta is simply not clean and unfortunately many tourists experienced diarrhea problem for street food.

                            I am not a big fan of Singapore Malay-style Padang food as well. For authentic Padang food, I will recommend you to go instead to Garuda at #02-01 Cairnhill Place. This is the only authentic Padang food restaurant in Singapore; the rest are just Singapore Malay style to suit Singapore taste bud.

                            I recommend you to go to Tiong Bahru Market for your second layover as the hawker stalls (on 2nd floor) there open real early as many go there for breakfast after their early morning grocery shopping in the wet market on the first floor. My favorite carrot cake is in Zion hawker center, which is actually not too far from Tiong Bahru market (5 min taxi ride or 20 min walking). The stall is operated by a deaf hawker who can read your lip when he takes the order. Unfortunately, i can't remember the stall number or what time it open (though I am sure it is available for lunch). There is also a very good carrot cake store in Newton but only available in the evening.

                            My favorite laksa stall is at Hong Lim Market, which is right behind China Point Shopping Center near Chinatown. You still have enough time to go for lunch at the Famous Sungei Rd Laksa store at #02-67, operated by the friendliest couple in the hawker business.

                            Now back to Gong Gong. There is a description on this website that you can read: The place that I usually eat is at Sin Huat Seafood at 659/661 Geylang Rd by the junction of Lor 35. This place was featured by Anthony Bourdain a few years ago and very well known for its Crab bee hoon. (bee hoon = rice vermicelli). While Chilli Crab, Black pepper crab are the better known dish in Singapore, this new dish (Crab bee hoon) which is started by Sin Huat is gaining more popular nowadays. However, Sin Huat is only opened for dinner so I don't think you have enough time during your layovers.

                            1. re: FourSeasons

                              If there were an emoticon to express eternal gratitude, I'd use it now. Thank you guys so much!

                              Is the Tiong Bahru Market relatively close to the MRT station, or do you strongly recommend taking a taxi? What about Hong Lim Market? Also, do the hawker stations generally have taxis nearby? I used to assume you could get a taxi anywhere (when I lived in NYC)... now I live in the Bay Area, I assume there are no taxis anywhere, unless you call a taxi company...

                              1. re: daveena

                                There are no MRT stops very near Tiong Bharu Market/Food Centre (the Tiong Bharu MRT station is about 15-20 minutes' walk away) so it's better that you take a taxi & avoid the hot & humid weather.

                                The nearest MRT stop to Hong Lim Market/Food Centre is the Chinatown station on the North-East Line. Use the Chinatown Point exit.

                                Taxi stands are everywhere in Singapore, and you also shouldn't have any problems hailing one on the street. Or you can call 65521111 for the local taxi company.

                                FourSeasons, when you talk about your favourite laksa stall in Hong Lim Market, are you referring to Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa at #02-67 Hong Lim Food Centre? When I'm there, I usually frequent Ah Heng Curry Chicken Bee Hoon Mee #02-58 Hong Lim Food Centre, Opening Hours: 9am to 5pm; closed on Sunday & Public Holidays).

                                BTW, daveena, I lunched at Siam Bay on Clay St today & really enjoyed the food (especially the mieng kam, sans chilli though). It's more authentic than the pseudo-Vietnamese chow served at the (inexplicably) more popular Le Cheval next door.

                                1. re: klyeoh

                                  Hi klyeoh: yes, Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa #02-67 is the one I recommended. The other stall at Hong Lim Market that I really like is Outram Park Char Kway Teow #02-18 which I rank as one of the best Char Kway Teow in Singapore. These are the only 2 stalls that I frequent in Hong Lim Market. I have not tried Ah Heng Chicken Bee Hoon Mee; maybe will give it a try on next trip there.

                                  1. re: FourSeasons

                                    Do you know what time hawker stalls specializing in breakfast foods usually open?

                                    After all this planning, the time is drawing near... chwee kueh, here I come!

                                    1. re: daveena

                                      It really depends on each individual stall owner what time they want to start the operation. For those that specialize in breakfast food, it is usually 6-6:30am. The chwee kueh store in Tiong Bahru Market is known as Jian Bo Shui Kueh #02-05, opens at 6:30am.

                                      One of the most favorite local breakfast food (or even for lunch and dinner as well) is Bak Kut Teh, literally translated as Pork Rib Tea, basically a bowl of hot pork rib soup with rice, accompanied with other small dishes. You may want to check this out if you want a heavy breakfast.

                                      1. re: FourSeasons

                                        That's fantastic - my flight gets in at 5:30 AM - I can clear customs and immigrations and head straight for the chwee kueh!

                                        I'll be on the lookout for Bak kut Teh - thank you (and everyone else) again for these all these tips.

                                        1. re: daveena

                                          Have a good food adventure in Singapore, daveena. Remember, if you ever run out of time to get out of Changi Airport, there's always the very good food centre at Terminal 1 (ask any airport personnel for the "staff canteen" - it's located at an annexe just after the Burger King outlet at Arrival Hall East). The food court mainly caters to airport/airline workers but is also open to the public, and opens quite early. I used to eat there every day when I was with Singapore Airlines many years ago. Some of the hawker foodstalls there can be as good, if not better, than those outside the airport. You can find Malay breakfast foods (nasi lemak, lontong), Indian breakfast foods (prata, dosa, iddiappam), Chinese (noodles, dumplings), etc.

                                          BTW, Terminals 2 & 3 also have their own "staff canteen"/foodcourts, but the hawker stalls there doesn't seem as good.

                                          P.S. - Am off to Oakland again this weekend (have already booked at Chez Panisse this time).