How This Boss Tripled Revenue by Automating Just 1/3 of His Business

e2i Inclusive Growth Programme

Mr Lee Chit Shung explaining Montreux’s success secrets to Minister Josephine Teo and e2i CEO Gilbert Tan (in blue)

Despite its French-sounding name, Montreux Patisserie Pte Ltd is a true-blue Singaporean brand.

The company supplies pastries to hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, country clubs and more, and they now operate out of their new factory at 44 Senoko Drive after purchasing a 20,000 square feet plot of land and building their factory according to their requirements.

And the man behind the business’ leaps of faith is Chef Lee Lay, an award-winning pastry chef who has garnered international accolades. Back in 1995, he started the bakery at East Coast Road when he was 45 years old – a decision which his friends found bold.

And together with his son, Mr Lee Chit Shung, the company has made yet another bold move in investing $11 million in buying the piece of land, building the new factory, acquiring machinery and moving their operations over from Bedok.

On 29th June, Minister Josephine Teo, the Second Minister for Manpower, visited Montreux Patisserie for a tour of the facility and wasted no time in getting hands-on experience in pastry-making.

e2i Inclusive Growth Programme

Minister Josephine Teo decorating the cupcakes after piping the cream on top.

e2i Inclusive Growth Programme

Adding the filling to the curry puff ‘skin’. The curry puffs which Montreux Patisserie makes are HUGE!

If you’re wondering why the staff are making curry puffs by hand when the company has supposedly made a hefty investment into automating its processes, it’s because the machine which produces curry puffs is “too productive”. It can produce some 85,000 pieces a day!

And because the Singapore market for curry puffs isn’t large enough, the machine is left idling – it’s used only 3 days in a week. Once the curry puffs are produced, they can be stored for up to 9 months using the blast freezing technology, without the use of preservatives. And every pastry-making department in Montreux Patisserie has a blast freezer (there are 5 in total).

e2i Inclusive Growth Programme

Minister Josephine Teo and Mr Lee Chit Shung at the entrance to the blast freezer. One roll-in unit can blast freeze 32 trays of pastries in 32 mins!

We did not enter the blast freezer, for obvious reasons. And it was already very cold just about everywhere in the pastry-making department. The company had sought the help of food consultants who guided them through the factory building process. They were advised to keep temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius when producing the pastries so as to slow down bacterial growth. The company has also provided staff with ‘heat tech t-shirts’ to help keep them warm – a thoughtful gesture which I’m sure they’ll appreciate.

Another thing staff appreciate is the machinery which aids them in their work. For instance, cake-cutting by hand takes about 10 minutes per cake, while the machine can do the job (perfectly, if I may add) in 2 minutes or so. And the best part is that the company cuts down on wastage and employees are at less risk of accidentally slicing their own fingers when cutting the cakes by hand.

e2i Inclusive Growth Programme

Cake-cutting machine does the same job 5 times faster than by hand!

While technology helps companies cope with the manpower crunch, it can also mean that some employees no longer have their old jobs as they have been ‘replaced’ by machines which can do their tasks better, faster and cheaper.

e2i Inclusive Growth Programme

Only 1 or 2 employees needed per station (vs. 6 in the past)

Montreux Patisserie, however, is firm in its belief that workers who have been with them for so long should not be let go simply because of automation. The company credits the Employment and Employability Institute, e2i, with helping them facilitate training, subsidizing man-hours used for training, planning the new duties of staff, and other manpower related issues. e2i was able to do this only after asking “detailed questions” about the job scopes of the staff and through consultation with the company, successfully helped redesign the jobs of the workers.

“Older staff may be redeployed to the packaging department. Or they go for training and take up less laborious tasks. We cannot bear to let them go.” – Mr Lee Chit Shung

e2i Inclusive Growth Programme

Mr Lee Chit Shung shows Minister Teo the various baking equipment in the kitchen.

And when it comes to the selection of machinery, getting a good bargain AND convincing staff who might be a tad resistant to all this new technology, Montreux Patisserie has got it down pat.

“We place a deposit and ask the manufacturer to bring in the machine during the FHA (Food and Hotel Asia). At the end of the fair, they sell the machine to us at 20% discount, instead of sending it back overseas. Also, we bring our staff to the FHA and they can see firsthand how it’s so easy to operate. And e2i comes in and advises on the grants we can receive.”

Next year, the FHA, which is the largest international food trade show in Asia, will be held in Singapore again and Montreux Patisserie has already set its sights on the machines it wants.

The younger Mr Lee says the CEO of e2i, Mr Gilbert Tan, is often able to tell on the spot (at the FHA) whether the company can get a 40, 50% etc grant under the Inclusive Growth Programme, judging from the “productivity boost” during the demonstrations of what the (new) machines can do at the FHA.

e2i inclusive growth programme

The latest updates / details on IGP and its benefits can be found here

Besides grants, e2i also provides the company with information on “innovation, automation, fabrication (of machines)”. Thus, Montreux Patisserie is able to effectively negotiate with manufacturers and get customized machines from Mitsubishi Electric, etc. The machines are tailor-made to suit the products that the company is producing and also simple enough for the staff to operate.

e2i inclusive growth programme

Mdm Law Siew Leng, 51, and her team can now make double the pastries with a new dough machine (Photo: NTUC This Week)

All staff whose jobs were redesigned due to the incorporation of the new machines, have a pay increase due to productivity gains too!

“e2i has done a good job in simplifying the process of application, they are willing to listen, invest more time in us, share their knowledge and expertise as they also meet other enterprises and can do cross-references, telling us a certain machine is also suitable for us.

Thus we can check with the manufacturer and ask for certain specification and calibration. The end goal is to make it simple for staff to use – they are not stupid; they are scared. So we tell them “just press one button” and show them how easy it is to use as many things have been pre-programmed already.”

e2i Inclusive Growth Programme

Mr Lee Chit Shung, Chef Lee Lay and Minister Josephine Teo

What I found most impressive about Montreux Patisserie, beyond that gigantic box of chocolates they gave to the Minister (it’s the biggest box of chocolates I’ve ever seen!), are these two things: their emphasis on staff training, and their openness to sharing (even with so-called ‘competitors’ in the industry).

#1: Training

According to the Lees, it’s wrong of bosses to think that there is no point in training staff as they might leave the company right after receiving the training.

“Give them the chance to grow. Otherwise, they will jump ship anyway. Our job is to groom them. We must train them for our own good. Don’t be afraid a competitor might poach them.”

Training appears to be a big part of Montreux Patisserie’s company culture as the bosses believe that the staff must be trained to know the details of everything they are working with. The younger Mr Lee is emphatic about how staff need to know the ingredients well, such as how “the difference between salted and unsalted butter is only that 2%” so they know what went wrong and how to rectify the issue when they make a mistake.

#2: “Sharing is loving”

While other companies are closely guarding all aspects of their operations by not allowing people to take pictures of the machinery they are using, for example, Montreux Patisserie is going in the opposite direction.

“We are happy to open our factory to whomever is interested to come and see. If we are the only one growing, how much price growth can we command? If the whole industry grows together, it’s different. We cannot be selfish; we must share. Sharing is loving. And if the Singapore pavilion gets bigger at trade fairs, it is also better for us.”

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Even though the younger Mr Lee estimates that only about 35% of the company’s operations are automated right now, the move towards automation has resulted in the company’s growth TRIPLING. They plan to begin exporting their products by the year 2020 and are currently studying the taste profile of consumers in overseas markets, in Dubai, Hong Kong, Indonesia, etc.

With their brand of resourcefulness, and with adequate support from e2i and the Government, I believe it’ll be a piece of cake for them to spread their wings overseas. 🙂

Bettr Barista Coffee Academy: More Than Just A Good Brew

Bettr Barista Coffee Academy

I’ve read a little about Bettr Barista over the years but only got to visit the Bettr Barista Coffee Academy recently. In a nutshell, it’s a social business which offers barista training to marginalized women and youths so they can be gainfully employed, while using a holistic approach to change their lives. The word “holistic” is so over-used these days, I know, but what the Academy does here goes beyond imparting a skill and helping people get employed.

Bettr Barista

Two Bettr Barista products: Single Serve Drip Coffee and capsules with compostable pods.

From what I understood from Jean’s presentation (she’s the co-founder), they offer a 6-month programme that helps students get stronger mentally, emotionally, and physically, beyond just getting them equipped with the right skills and sending them off for an internship. Also, the program is available only to selected beneficiaries.

Bettr Barista training

Bettr Barista Coffee Academy will be celebrating its 6th anniversary in November, and to date, it has had 16 intakes and a total of 70 students. Their graduates have also, reportedly, earned a combined $1 million worth of salaries.

And how did the Academy help people turn their lives around? Some of them had financial issues, some used to not show up for work due to problems at home, and some women have been housewives for the longest time and then had to re-enter the workforce to earn money to support their families.

Some (perhaps) unconventional things the Academy does are, for instance, to teach their students self-defense, yoga and even rock-climbing. The latter helps women who have not been working for years get a mindset shift that, hey, they can do it; they CAN climb that wall or get over the hurdles in Life. (And it’s also useful as exercise because the F&B industry is physically demanding) When the students learn about self-defense, it ups their levels of confidence and yoga, as most of us know, helps them stay calm and centered (definitely useful when interacting with unreasonable customers, I’m sure).

This B Corp-certified company also offers flexi-work arrangements such as a 3- or 4-day work week so their employees can properly juggle the commitments at home.

Bettr Barista drinks

Among the instructors at Bettr Barista Coffee Academy is Natasha Shariff, who won 4th place at the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship in June 2017. Some of her creations include a coffee + gin/whiskey combination.

Bettr Barista also offers coffee-centered classes and workshops, and have trained 3200 students worldwide, in countries like Taiwan, Myanmar and Australia. They’ve also provided coffee at over 270 events, such as one at Changi Airport which saw them serving up some 10,000 cups within 9 hours! The business has also gone into community spaces at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, INCOME’s premises, etc.

When you visit Plaza Singaura, look out for the DBS x Bettr Barista collaboration. You’ll find coffee waffles, chicken luncheon meat + hae bee hiam waffles and also chocolate + kaya waffles (only in August). Jean says there’s also a condensed milk cold brew (undiluted) which will leave you buzzing. 😀

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Follow Bettr Barista over on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Bettrbarista/ and catch them at the Festival For Good this Saturday! I’ll be there! 🙂

4 Things I’ve Recently Learnt About Wagyu Beef

Japanese wagyu beef

I attended a seminar recently that introduced participants to the world of Japanese wagyu beef and a few other “exquisite ingredients”. At that seminar, I met Chef Jeremy Nguee (again) and also spotted Chef Willin Low (I think). My respect for them went up a notch as they are already accomplished chefs but have an admirable attitude towards learning and honing their skills. So, props to them! I was just there for the beef! 😀 Before they let us stuff our faces, though, we sat through a presentation about Japanese Wagyu and I learnt a few things I never knew about wagyu beef before:

#1: It’s best to eat out when it comes to wagyu

Wagyu beef has to be kept in the (industrial) refrigerator between 0 to 1 degree Celsius. Yes, the range is that tiny! So forget about keeping wagyu beef in your home fridge and cooking it for tomorrow’s dinner. If wagyu is stored under 0 degrees, a “large amount of drip will come out when cutting it (at room temperature)”. On the other hand, if it’s stored at above 2 degrees, “it simply accelerates deterioration”. My goodness.

*Drip causes deterioration, leading to a bad smell. Wagyu can turn grey or green when this happens, especially with certain cuts (rump, top round, neck).

(Aside) Brewerkz has just launched a 100% wagyu burger and it’s available for a limited period, so go try it!

#2: The cows get massages (yup, you read that right)

Apparently, massages help in preventing subcutaneous fat from accumulating in the wrong places or proportions. Also, when the calf is more than 3 months old, it gets to graze freely on quality hay. At about 9 to 10 months of age, it is sent to auction and then on to fattening farms. When the cow weighs between 650kg to 700kg, it’s shipped off to market.

After the cows are bred in such seeming comfort, they are also slaughtered using a (supposedly) “stress-free” method, with the use of the “carbon dioxide gas anaesthesia machine” (vs. the use of electric shocks).

#3: The cows have ID too

There are identification tags attached to their ears. The same ID is printed on labels / pricetags at supermarkets (in Japan) where they sell wagyu beef.

You can head to the website shown below, key in the ID printed on the packaging of the beef you’ve just bought or are intending to buy, and you can see key information like date of birth, date of slaughter, which farm it came from, etc. You’ll even get to see the parent cow’s ID information!

Beef ID

#4: Kagoshima has amazing produce

Besides beef, Kagoshima is famous for having produced the world’s heaviest radish (all of 31.1kg). We also got to sample the saba fish (with miso) which had been cooked in a factory and then vacuum packed for sale all over the world. It was delicious.

Because of the active volcanoes in Kagoshima, soil is more fertile and vegetables grow faster and taller. And apparently, Kagoshima Kurobuta is famous too:

Kagoshima Kurobuta

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Brewerkz in Clarke Quay has a little seminar room of sorts at the back, where their brewery used to be. I think it’s a good venue for F&B-related seminars, like the masterclasses which e2i often hosts. This particular one was organized by Yamato (which imports the premium wagyu beef into Singapore) and supported by e2i (Employment and Employability Institute). 🙂

brewerkz clarke quay

Yamato Shoji (Singapore) Pte Ltd Tel: 6589 8925, sales@yamato29.jp

Jamie Oliver Knife Set: Redeemable At NTUC FairPrice :)

Jamie Oliver knives

If you don’t already know, you can get your hands on the Jamie Oliver knife collection at NTUC FairPrice, at up to 88% off the recommended retail price! 😀 There’s even a knife block and sharpening steel for you to redeem. And I’ve already got one item from the collection (guess which one it is?) 😀

Jamie Oliver knives NTUC fairprice

The original retail prices of these items are rather steep but now you simply have to collect points when you shop at FairPrice (1 point for every $30 spent) and once you have a minimum of 5 points, you can start redeeming these items at special prices.

And ta-dah! I’ve redeemed the Chinese Chef’s knife. Haven’t used it yet though 🙂

Jamie Oliver Chinese Chef's Knife

I found one line on the back of the box pretty funny: “This versatile knife is also great for chopping veg into matchsticks”. I’ll just have to watch out for my fingers then. 😀

It’s only $19.90 if you have 10 points. So far, I have cooking pots and storage containers from FairPrice. And I think this collection looks awesome. I’ve seen Gordon Ramsay sharpen a knife with a sharpening steel before and apparently there’s a particular angle / technique to it. If I find that video again, I’ll post it here. For now… happy shopping and cooking!~

VLV Riverside @ Clarke Quay: “The Rolls-Royce Of Zi Char”

VLV Riverside

All pictures in this blogpost are courtesy of Hearted Moments Photography.

When the sun sets, the area along the Singapore River comes to life amid a myriad of color (it’s really very pretty). As bumboats ferrying tourists go past, you can tuck into a good meal of premium ‘zi char’ dishes at one of the restaurants along the river. VLV Singapore now offers riverside dining options and my friend, M, was so impressed she said this is the “Rolls-Royce of zi char”! Save for the fighter planes going past every 5 minutes or so (in the rehearsal leading up to the National Day Parade), it was the perfect spot for the couples and the friends like us to enjoy a delicious dinner under the gorgeous canopies.

What’s the difference between VLV’s version of ‘zi char’ and regular ‘zi char’, you might ask? Well, let’s start with the appetizer: Crispy Bull Frog with Ginger. Besides gorgeous plating, this dish is a truly creative one. The thin and long ‘crisps’ are actually ginger slices. It’s ginger like you’ve never tasted it before. It’s uber-crispy so people wearing dentures or braces might have trouble with it. The rest of us simply love it as it’s crispier than potato chips! And while not as meaty as chicken wings, the pieces of bull frog are well-seasoned. This dish is a feast for the eyes even as it satisfies your tastebuds.

Crispy Bull Frog with Ginger

Then there’s the Crackling Pork Belly paired with salted fish. (One of my pals is a BIG fan of salted fish) The pork belly is very thinly sliced and slightly on the salty side, so I think it’s great eaten with white rice. Where’s my rice? 😀

Crackling Pork Belly

The Ginger Scallion XO Noodles also come with a very generous serving of pork lard. Needless to say, it’s a good noodle dish but seniors might want to leave the lard for others instead.

Ginger Scallion XO Noodles

The Stir-fried Sambal Prawn with Petai dish is pretty spicy, so once again, I’m missing the rice. (We didn’t have rice that day as we already had noodles) I don’t eat petai, despite its many health benefits, so I felt like it was a bit of a waste for us to leave all that petai behind. But prawns are definitely one of my favs.

Stir Fried Sambal Prawn with Petai

The star of the meal had to be the Chairman’s Crab, which featured a steamed Sri Lankan crab with bonito egg white. If you look closely, you’ll see the ikura (salmon roe), which adds that salty flavor to the dish and also is a joy to eat as it gives a little ‘pop’ in your mouth before releasing all its goodness. Yum! 😀

Chairman's Crab

We flipped the shell right side up solely for photo-taking purposes 😀

Chairman's Crab VLV Riverside

Besides the goodness of the crab, the sauce has egg white, dashi stock, bonito, etc, and this is done in their signature cooking style. As for the freshness of the crab, my pal commented that “It doesn’t get firmer than this”. Thank you, Chef, for selecting such a fresh (and sweet) crab for us.
I’ve tried VLV’s 45-day-old duck before, when we went for lunch at VLV previously. The thin, crispy skin will be a hit with many. And my verdict remains the same: the duck could do with more fat, like those at London Fat Duck but it’s good for those who are health-conscious, really! 😀 I simply picked out the fattier bits to eat. 😀 This time round, though, it’s Roasted Truffle London Duck for dinner. If you’re a fan of truffle and duck dishes, try this one…

Roasted Truffle London Duck

And one other dish I think everyone will enjoy is the Congee with Flower Clam and Prawn. This seafood porridge has the sweetness from the various ingredients within and it’s cooked to perfection, without the lumps in porridge which I really don’t like. Just give me this porridge dish and some pepper, and I’ll be very happy. 😀

Congee with flower clam and prawn

My pal made this bold comment: “After eating this zi char, how to eat any other zi char?” Indeed, we will remember the crab and porridge fondly, hopefully not in the middle of the night. But judging from the meals we’ve had at VLV, I believe the chef will continue pushing the boundaries so the next time we pop by again, we’ll be in for yet another culinary surprise from him. 🙂

I think any tourist who stumbles upon this restaurant while touring the Clarke Quay area will certainly find it to be a gem, just like we did. There’s music to enjoy while you dine as video clips are projected onto the wall (the side of a neighboring shophouse). To complement the meal, order some beer or wine so you can enjoy this atas zi char to the max. I’ll be sure to order the osmanthus jelly next time too – totally forgot about it – as it would be the perfect finish to any meal at VLV. We had ice cream across the river instead, as there’s this little Japanese dessert shop called Tsujiri that I’ve never visited before. 🙂 I might do a review in a bit.

VLV riverside review

~ Go Try The Zi Char At VLV ~

Reservations: +65 6661 0197

3A River Valley Road #01-02 Singapore 179020 (*within walking distance from Clarke Quay MRT station)

*All pictures courtesy of Hearted Moments Photography.

Rong Heng Seafood Restaurant @ East Coast: Where Robots Serve You Food… Almost

rong heng seafood steamed crab

Before National Day, we had a seafood dinner at East Coast (lovely place that it is) and visited, for the first time, Rong Heng Seafood Restaurant, which is located near big names like ‘Long Beach’, ‘Jumbo’, etc. While the other restaurants were really busy, it was quieter at Rong Heng, which we didn’t mind, since it meant that food wouldn’t take long to be served and we can dine in peace and quiet. There were quite a number of robots stationed at the entrance but only 1 was actively working within, delivering our food from the kitchen’s entryway right up to our table. The restaurant claims to be the first in Singapore to employ robots. And I think it’s a smart move because of the labor crunch and also because of the novelty factor; they even got featured on The Straits Times last year! But whether you employ robots, drones or what-have-you, it doesn’t matter if the food doesn’t taste good, right? So that’s what I focus on…

We ordered a crab steamed with ‘hua diao’ wine (花雕酒) and egg white:

rong heng seafood

The chef was a little heavy-handed with the cooking wine but the taste was not unpleasant. The crab was fresh and tasty too. *If you’re unsure whether a certain eatery or restaurant serves fresh crab, have it cooked using the steaming method. Nothing’s going to help mask an unpleasant odor or taste if the food is steamed. If cooked in a chili or black pepper sauce, much can go unnoticed. 😉

We also ordered the seafood horfun. It was a tasty dish with 3 plump prawns on top:

rong heng seafood horfun

The appetizer was a crispy baby squid dish which my pal liked, but I have never tried before. If blindfolded and asked to identify this dish just by tasting it alone, I’d guess it’s ikan bilis or some kind of roasted peanut. It’s crispy to the point of being plain hard and while I can see the little tentacles and squid bodies, it’s a bit hard to reconcile the sight with the taste, like, how is this not anchovies when it tastes so much like it?!

rong heng seafood crispy baby squid

And the first thing we were served was Chinese tea (and it’s included in the bill, not gratis). It’s like they didn’t bother to find out if we want a fresh coconut or Coke or something else. But I suppose tea is the best accompaniment to a typical Chinese meal. Though beer would have gone well with the crispy squid. #justsaying

As mentioned earlier, there was just one robot on duty (with a blue scarf around her neck) when we were having our dinner. Once the dish is ready, the chef places it in the window and presses a bell. Upon hearing the ‘ding’, the staff (in blue) will transfer the plate onto the tray the robot is carrying, and off she goes…

rong heng seafood robots

When she arrives at our table, there’s a quick greeting and she tells us our food is ready… all in Mandarin. And a waiter will transfer the plate from the robot’s tray onto our table. If we are too preoccupied with snapping photos and/or a video, the robot will actually go off with our food. I suppose it has not been programmed to be able to know when the tray is empty or still laden with food. So that was funny! 😀

rong heng seafood robot restaurant

In terms of the seating arrangement, I’d recommend that you *not* take a seat at one of the smaller tables near the glass panels. Sure, the view is nicer but the tables seem like they were meant for use with steamboat equipment. It’s not hollow underneath so you cannot stretch your legs or even sit close to the table. And I experienced cramps before the end of our meal.

rong heng seafood review

What’s this black paneling doing here? It’s where I should be able to stretch out my legs!

rong heng seafood restaurant review

So if you don’t mind sitting outdoors or have a larger group of friends or family with you so you can take one of the bigger tables (which, thankfully, have leg room), you’ll enjoy your dining experience here even more.

Robots on standby… (they are like additional service staff who can be activated with just a moment’s notice)

rong heng seafood restaurant robot waiters

After we had stepped out of the restaurant and walked some distance away, a lady from the restaurant ran out after us. She wanted to hand us a business card with her name and number on it. Also, she’d written ‘15% discount’ on the card. Apparently, we simply have to look for Susan when we head back again and we’d get 15% discount off our bill. I’m not too sure if we’ll be back, but you are most welcome to use this privilege: look for Susan, get 15% off. 🙂

Rong Heng is located right next to Long Beach.

rong heng seafood east coast

While dining within Rong Heng, I spotted wait staff helping diners over at Long Beach put on their disposable aprons. That level of service is impressive. Besides the quality of the food, I suppose the restaurants have to compete based on attentiveness and service quality. They could certainly learn a thing or two from Haidilao, for instance. If Rong Heng had, maybe, given us each a small bowl of dessert (which we didn’t order), that sweet gesture might have us coming back again, as the meal costs over $100. Instead of having the lady run after us and try to shake our hands (I kept mine firmly in my back pockets. LOL)

Halal Buffet @ Royal Palm (Orchid Country Club) 1-For-1 Promotion

Royal Palm buffet review

From now till 30th September 2017, you can enjoy the 1-For-1 National Day Promotion at Royal Palm at Orchid Country Club. It’s valid for lunch and high tea (everyday) or for dinner (Mondays to Thursdays only) at $40++. It made for a decent National Day lunch as there’s chili crab and fresh prawns (eaten just before we went prawning at ORTO). We were just a tad disappointed that there wasn’t any sashimi (apparently it only makes an appearance during the high tea session) so we ate our fill of prawns, mussels and crab.

In case you’re wondering, it’s not Sri Lankan crabs. I think they’re the usual ‘flower crabs’ but the chili crab sauce is pretty good. And because of the high ‘turnover’, each piece you get is piping hot. Yumz. And because the shell is soft, you don’t need any kitchen tools to crack the shell; just use your teeth. 😀

Royal Palm buffet lunch

I was also pleasantly surprised at finding salmon heads at the buffet spread. There’s not much flesh (mainly in the cheek region) but, strangely enough, I like the skin and gelatinous bits at the top of the salmon’s head. 😀 How weird is that?! And the prawns are so very fresh.

Royal Palm review

There’s also a selection of pizza (which I didn’t eat) and breads. Even ‘mantou’ for the chili crab sauce! There are salads, veggies, prata, etc. But I skipped the carbs for the dessert. I like their mango pudding (looked like it was made in-house) and the range of kueh.

Royal Palm Orchid Country Club buffet

For an atas-looking restaurant located within a country club, I have to say that the price of their buffet is very attractive with the ongoing promotion. I just might want to return again for the sashimi during their high tea sessions. 😀 Trying to locate the restaurant after parking was a pain though. Apparently you have to walk past the kindergarten (or is it a childcare centre?) before you can get here. Walk in the wrong direction and you’ll see the golf course, more pools and even the gym.

Royal Palm Orchid Country Club

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For reservations, call 6555 2165. 1 Orchid Club Road, #01-21, Singapore 769162.

Recommended: Hong Kong Street Zi Char @ 339 Ang Mo Kio Ave 1

hong kong street zi char prawn paste chicken

After attending the Books Box Sale at Pansing yesterday, my pals and I were famished! We decided to trust Google for a zi char recommendation. I basically keyed in the search terms “ang mo kio zi char” and the stall at the top of the list was closed so next in line was this Hong Kong Street Zi Char which had some 4 out of 5 stars (what sort of ranking this is, I have no idea but hungry people don’t question supposedly questionable ratings). And it was barely a 7-minute drive away so off we went. And my goodness, Google is awesome! My very atas and very picky pals couldn’t find any fault at all with the dishes we ordered! We were hungry, yes, but every dish was delicious. You can’t even find fault with the plating, as you can see with the Prawn Paste Chicken dish above in a fan / flower layout with the lime in the middle. 🙂

At other zi char places, the food can be stacked haphazardly like this:

wang ji 268 seafood restaurant

Prawn Paste Chicken I ate elsewhere. And they weren’t properly cooked through either.

We ordered a total of 5 dishes, and the bill came up to just $41. We were almost bursting at the seams by the end of this makan session.

hong kong street zi char ang mo kio kai lan

Even the Hong Kong Kai Lan fried with garlic was delicious. What sorcery is this?!

I had the fish (meat) bee hoon soup. Very fleshy portions of fish – watch out for the small bones within though. Add some chili padi and this is a very yummy meal on its own.

hong kong street zi char bee hoon soup

Many of this zi char stall’s specialty dishes contain salted fish, which I’m not a fan of. But I went ahead and tasted these next two dishes and boy, where they good!

ang mo kio zi char

zi char ang mo kio

If you are in Ang Mo Kio and would like a good zi char meal, look no further than Hong Kong Street Zi Char. I read online that there are a few other stalls with similar names in Ang Mo Kio but this one has a 4-out-of-5-stars rating, ok? I’d give it 5 stars anyway! 🙂

Address: 339 Ang Mo Kio Ave 1

Note the opening hours below:

hong kong street zi char opening hours

MUJI Café @ Plaza Singapura: For Atas Japanese ‘Cai Fan’

muji cafe pork katsu donburi

The Pork Katsu Donburi $15.90 (MUJI cafe @ Plaza Singapura)

Brought my pals to the MUJI cafe at Plaza Singapura the week after it opened, and procrastinated with regard to blogging about it thereafter. 😀 The food was good, and so was the ambiance but the waiting in line was enough to make the most patient person get a little frustrated. You don’t get to sit down and have wait staff come over to take your order. Nope, you have to stand in line, place your order at the counter, make payment then go back to your seat (and hopefully, you’ve already chope-d one). You can order their deli set (or what I call Japanese cai fan) and select whichever hot or cold deli dishes you fancy, and staff will weigh each portion in a slow and steady process. To make matters worse, some fickle-minded customers who have been staring at the deli showcase for the past 30 minutes or so suddenly can’t decide if the salmon or the salad is a good idea or not when they reach the head of the queue. As they hem and haw about their selection, you’ll feel like hitting them on the back of the head. 😀 Tip: Avoid the peak lunch hour crowd if you can.

Muji Cafe Deli Set

What I call Japanese ‘Cai Fan’ – you decide which hot + cold deli dishes will accompany your rice

*Update: My atas pal, ‘Angie’ (also know as Angelina Kelly) said the Sunset Tea she’d ordered with her meal had (in her own words) “no taste”. I think she meant to say that it was not flavorful enough. Or she’d forgotten to dump the syrup into her drink. Her husband, a Mr ‘Bread Pitt’, said Japanese food comes in such small portions that one can never be full. But perhaps that is the whole point – so Japanese people stay slim.

I picked the Pork Katsu Donburi you see in the very first picture above as it’s so much easier to order with no need to select any sides and it’s supposedly exclusive to the outlet at Plaza Singapura. The salad was delightful, and I enjoyed eating the onsen egg and pork katsu as well. The 16-grain rice, well, sounds a little extravagant but the best part of this ‘Japanese’ meal is that it is light on the stomach. Yes, you are unlikely to experience a post-lunch food coma.

If you’re a fan of baked rice, there’s another ‘exclusive’ item for you:

muji cafe plaza singapura

What we enjoyed most was the mushroom soup at MUJI cafe. It costs something like $2 and is easy to overlook on the menu, but it’s delicious!

Muji cafe mushroom soup

Just look at the color of the mushroom soup and you can tell it’s full of flavor. Go give it a try – you won’t regret it!

muji plaza sing deli set

They have takeaway bentos as well. And once again, the staff will slowly ladle out your choice of hot / cold deli. MUJI cafe really should have a separate queue for folks who want their food fast, as in “1 Pork Katsu Donburi” fast. It’s so weird that I have to join the “cai fan” queue when I want to order just the donburi.

But I did have to walk past the food showcase and ogle the oh-so-pretty dessert. Try to resist those, if you can. 😛 I bet it’s a tactic to get customers to spend more. “Oh I’ve been waiting for so long, might as well get another side dish or two. And the dessert looks so tempting, might as well order the cheesecake or panna cotta too!”

muji plaza singapura showcase

Here’s the dessert menu:

muji cafe dessert

Japanese ‘cai fan’ doesn’t come cheap. Prices start from $8.80. But the good thing is you can select the pricier meats instead of going for the greens, ‘cos you’ll be charged the same price. Why not?

muji cafe prices

For the Hot Deli items, I think the items which offer the most value for money are the baked salmon with miso cream, beef patty with yuzu mushroom sauce, glazed balsamic pork with roasted vegetables, spicy yuzu pork, and saba fish with japanese yuzu soy sauce. Why choose the “healthy tofu patty”? (Unless you’re vegetarian)

Muji Cafe Hot Deli menu

For the Cold Deli items, I’d choose Prawn couscous salad with yuzu-sesame dressing, thick omelette with Japanese-style mushroom, and sweet potato and pomegranate salad. No tofu salad or hijiki (seaweed) salad for me! 😛

Muji Cafe Cold Deli Menu

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Have you been to the MUJI cafe at Plaza Singapura? You should pop by if you’re a fan of Japanese food or the very zen dining experience. Just don’t head by during the busy mealtimes as it’s not very zen then. Quite a good place for brunch though. 😉

Bangkok Jam @ Plaza Singapura: Extra Enjoyable Meals With 50% Discount

bangkok jam review

There are a few restaurants I always go back to when I visit certain malls. And if it’s not for websites / apps like Groupon / Fave or Eatigo, I certainly won’t get out of my comfort zone. Because of Eatigo, I had dinner at Bangkok Jam with my pals (‘Angie’ and ‘Bread Pitt’) for the very first time. And what do I order at a place which sells Thai food? Phad Thai, of course! 😀 This version with seafood costs just $6++ after the 50% discount, thanks to Eatigo.

‘Angie’ ordered the Tom Yum Seafood with noodles ($6++), and found it was a rather small portion size. I joked that it’s 50% of the usual quantity because of the discount.

bangkok jam promotion

My other pal ordered the Soft Shell Crab with a Mellow Yellow Curry ($9++). I thought the crab was overly salty, but since he’d ordered rice to go with it, it wasn’t too bad. The curry, on the other hand, seems to be more of an acquired taste.

bangkok jam plaza singapura

Angie wanted dessert so they had Caramelized Tapioca with Coconut Milk ($3.95++). She found the tapioca rather hard but her husband thinks it’s fine. I don’t usually eat tapioca so I don’t have a verdict on this one.

bangkok jam caramelized tapioca with coconut milk

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All in all, this meal cost about $10 per person. I love Eatigo already. Note that the discounts will usually not apply to drinks. But Bangkok Jam serves complimentary iced water (and they put oranges into the water too so there’s a nice fragrance) which I’m thankful for! 😀 Also, the ‘percentage’ discount is different across outlets and depends very much on what time you arrive at the restaurant. For us, because we came by the restaurant for an early dinner (between 4pm and 6pm), we were entitled to the 50% discount. If you make a reservation and pop by at any other time slot, the discount varies, so check the Eatigo website / app and make your reservation there.