Wednesday 28 September 2022

Friends Café HK – Classic Cha Chaan Teng Comfort Food

It was our second try to visit Friends Café HK (‘FC’) at Sembawang, and it was more of an unplanned visit as we are waiting to pass time. Our 1st try was thwarted after we saw the queue to get into FC. This time around, it seems the hype has settled and we manage to get a seat easily.

Friends Café HK
From the outside, you will be welcome by the Friends Café signboard in Cantonese, brighten up by the light box with jade green colour as the background. I can’t read Chinese or Cantonese, so I need to rely on LD to confirm the place. Well, for those who do not read Chinese or Cantonese like me, the menu has English as well.

The Menu
Once you enter the shop, you will feel the familiar feel of the place. The décor, starting with mosaic tiles flooring and on the wall, together with the green chairs and steel and wooden table will totally transport you back to the Cha Chaan Teng in Hong Kong. Those who have never been to Hong Kong, think of those scenes from Young and Dangerous movies, God of Gamblers or any HK shows in the 80s or 90s. Well, the Cantopop music from the 80s and 90s definitely set the ambience of the shop.

Part of the Interior
I start my meal with Beef Balls Brisket Horfun ($7.50). I don’t think I ever tried horfun in HK, most of the time I only order the egg noodle or the instant noodle. The broth is robust and packed with MOO MOO flavour, as you can see from the layer of oil on top. The beef balls are smooth and bouncy, while the brisket is fatty, soft and fork tender. Surprisingly, the horfun is smooth and silky, plus it soaks up the essence of the broth. Totally amazed by this dish and it is a must-order here.

Beef Balls Brisket Horfun
Beef Brisket
Beef Ball
The Horfun
LD starts with the Black Pepper Chicken Chop Set ($8.50). The set is served with our choice of 1 side and toast with butter. For the side, LD choose a fried egg. In traditional HK style, the chicken chop is served on top of a big pile of rice. The black pepper sauce, infused with Worchester sauce generously drizzle on top of the chicken chop and occupied half of the plate. The chicken is well-marinated, thick, yet juicy and succulent. The egg is perfectly cooked, with the yolk oozing out in the middle. Meanwhile, the black pepper sauce just binds all the ingredients together. Yummy!

Black Pepper Chicken Chop
Black Pepper Chicken Chop
We decided to share another set dish, Satay Sliced Beef Instant Noodle Set ($8.50). I choose bacon as the side dish plus it is served with toast and butter. For those who never try satay beef HK style, there is no peanut in it. It tasted more like bbq sauce or the beef sauce you find in Hai Di Lau. The beef is tender and soaks up the flavour of the bbq sauce. The instant noodle is al-dente while the light flavour broth allows the flavour of the satay sauce to shine. I feel the bacon is too salty, it just feels alien on the dish. I should have ordered luncheon meat instead.

Satay Sliced Beef Instant Noodle 
Satay Sliced Beef Instant Noodle 
The toast is slathered with lots of butter; however, I was not sure how to enjoy it as we already have lots of carbos. The solution present itself when the Curry Fish Ball ($4.50) arrived. From the look, I can tell you the fish balls are different from HK version but the curry taste is the same. The HK fishball is about the size of a quail egg and dense, while the SG fishball is bouncy, airy and bigger. I prefer the SG fishballs. While LD and I finished the fishballs, I decided to polish the curry using the toast.

Curry Fish Ball
Toast with Butter
Toast with Curry Sauce
For the drink, I have the cold Homemade Milk Tea ($3.50) and LD ordered Cream Soda ($2). FC made their cold milk tea in big batches, bottled it and put them in the fridge. They are smooth, silky and packed with signature HK tea flavour.

HK Milk Tea
Cream Soda
Since we are waiting for time to pick someone, we decided to order desserts. Fish Meat Siew Mai ($3.50) and French Toast (Peanut Butter, $4.50). Although the size looks small, the fish meat siew mai is tasty and bouncy. The texture totally reminds me of the HK version of fish ball, but it is steam instead of deep fried.

Fish Meat Siew Mai
Of all the dishes that we tried that day, the French Toast (Peanut Butter, $4.50) was disappointing. The temperature of the oil is not hot enough, allowing the oil to sip into the middle section of the bread. The exterior is not crispy and the peanut butter was ruined by the oil in the bread. Hopefully, they can improve on the French Toast.

French Toast
Peanut Butter Fillings
Service on the day was friendly and attentive. Luckily, you will not get the Signature HK stern and bo chap (‘I don’t care’) service here.

Overall, it was one of the best HK café experiences that we have had in Singapore. LD gave the Chicken Chop Rice two thumbs up, while I enjoy the Beef Ball Brisket Horfun and Satay Beef Instant Noodle. The HK Milk tea is good and the creamy soda drink is just a nostalgic HK drink. Hopefully, we have more chances to visit them in the future and enjoy the classic HK comfort dishes. Cheers!!

PS: I saw FC posted their homemade Bolo Bao with Butter on Facebook. Looking forward to trying this in the future.

Food & Drink: 8/10
Value: 8/10
Service: 7/10
Ambiance: 8.5/10
Budget per Person: $11 - $25

Friends Café HK
60 Springside Walk
#01-18, The Brooks 1
Singapore 786020

T: +65 8621 1125
Daily 11.30 – 20.30

Wednesday 21 September 2022

[CLOSED] Nonbei Izakaya – A Gem in The Making [Media Invite]

Meet Nonbei Izakaya, a new concept by the group that runs the successful George Town Tze Char & Craft Beer. Inspired by Tokyo’s Nonbei Yokocho (drunkards alley lined with izakaya and bars). Nonbei Izakaya specialises in fresh sashimi, tantalising Japanese bites, sake and Japanese beer.

Nonbei Izakaya
The Entrance
Part of the Interior
The Sushi Bar
Located in heritage Chinatown shophouses, across Maxwell Market, Nonbei Izakaya offers indoor and outdoor dining areas. The indoor offers a cooling and air-conditioned environment, however, I think the outdoor is the best seat in the house, especially during the cooler weather. From here you can enjoy the buzz and also historical feel of Chinatown, plus the view of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

Al-fresco Seating Area
Al-fresco Seating Area
We started the tasting with Ohitashi (Vegetables marinated with dashi, $6) and Tamago Yaki (Japanese omelette, $10). The vegetables are sweet and cooked with the signature dashi. It finished off with generous shavings of Shaved Katsuobushi. The tamago yaki has a nice texture, solid and tasty with a hint of dashi at the end.

Tamago Yaki
Sashimi (7 kinds, $58). Hon Toro (Fatty Tuna, top up $18). Served on iced, these beautifully plated sashimi is fresh and generous in size. Totally loved the hon toro, however, the scallop is surprisingly good as well.

Sashimi, 7 kinds
Buri Kama Shio Yaki ($18). Our favourite grilled yellowtail collar. Lightly salted, with crispy skin followed by the fatty and melt-in-your-mouth flesh from the collar. A lemon just enhances the flavour of the fish. Yes, the price is very reasonable for that size of the yellowtail collar.

Buta Kama Shio Yaki
Buta Kama Shio Yaki
Buta Kakuni (Braised pork with soy, $10). Can’t say NO to this delicious pork belly. The pork belly is boiled in a blend of soy sauce, ginger, spring onion, mirin and dashi. The fats just dissipate slowly once you put it in your mouth. The best part is the broth is not as salty as other izakayas.

Buta Kakuni
Kushi yaki (skewers) include: Tebasaki (Japanese Chicken Wing, $2.50), Yakitori (Chicken Skewers, $2.50), Tori Kawa (Chicken Skin Skewers, $2.50), Asparagus Bacon ($3), Mukago (Japanese Yam, $1.50), Ko Tamanegi (Charred Onion, $1.50)

Bottom to Top: Mukago, Asparagus Bacon, Ko Tamanegi,
Tebasaki, Tori Kawa & Yakitori
One of the skewers that catch my attention is the Mukago, Japanese yam. It looks like a mini potato, but it has more depth in flavour and is crunchy compared to a potato. The Tori Kawa is my favourite. The chicken skin is well done to the point of crispy, yet it has a lovely chewiness in it as well.

Left to Right: Mukago, Asparagus Bacon, Ko Tamanegi,
Tebasaki, Tori Kawa & Yakitori
Ebi Tempura ($15) and Kani Croquette (Crab cream croquette, $10) are next. The ebi tempura has a nice crispy exterior, followed by juicy and fresh prawn flesh. Eating the kani croquette can be dangerous since the cream fillings can be extremely hot. I usually poke a hole to test out the cream temperature before I bite through it. The crispy exterior provided a perfect capsule for the creamy and umami pack crab cream. Yummy.

Ebi Tempura
Kani Croqutte
Sukiyaki Beef ($12) is a common dish you can find in an izakaya. The fatty beef sliced is pan-fried with onions and braised with dashi to give it the umami finish. The beef here is tender and juicy. Good side dish for drinking or to eat with rice.

Sukiyaki Beef
Asari butter yaki (Asari clam pan-fried with butter, $10). Fresh clams, seared in the pan briefly with mirin and butter. Soft, chewy and filled with butter and mirin.

Asari Butter Yaki
Chashu Ramen ($12). Ramen is a common dish in an izakaya to end the meal and ensure you have a filled tummy to cushion the alcohol. The portion is half of the ramen house version. The soup base is thick, creamy and robust. While the ramen is bouncy, the chashu portion is generous. The overall flavour is better than average, however not to a ramen shop standard.

Chashu Ramen
Chashu Ramen
Live Oysters (6 pieces, $3 promo price). Fresh, juicy, delicious and a steal for this price. The fresh oysters are served with soy sauce, spring onion and shaved radish. A must-order here.

Live Oysters
Live Oyster
We were served 4 sakes by Charles, the owner. Knowing his knack for serving the highly rated wine and alcohol at Georgetown at a reasonable price, his sake offerings will certainly be at that level as well. The group was served the following sakes: Sake Kiminoi Honjozo Josen ($10 for 120ml), Sake Manotsuru Junmai Ginzo ($48 for 300ml), Sake Sazen Junmai Daiginjo Omachi ($128 for 720ml) and Sake Keigetsu Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling ‘John’ ($128 for 720ml)

Sake Kiminoi Honjozo Josen
Sake Manotsuru Junmai Ginzo
Sake Sazen Junmai Daiginjo Omachi
Sake Keigetsu Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling ‘John’
Overall, this sister restaurant from Georgetown has the potential to be a winner. The food and sake are well priced and taste very good as well. Don’t forget to visit them if you are near the Chinatown area and enjoy their hospitality. Kanpai! Cheers!

The Sake Menu
Don’t forget to check the current promotions.
Choose 1: $3 for 6 Live Oysters OR $3 for 5 pieces of the freshest sashimi air-flown from Japan (choice of either king salmon, bluefin tuna or amberjack)

The Food Menu
Thank you very much Jennifer Yeo Consultancy and Nonbei Izakaya Team for hosting us.

Food & Drink: 7.25/10
Value: 7.5/10
Service: N/A (Tasting Invitation)
Ambiance: 7.5/10
Budget per Person: $51 - $80

Nonbei Izakaya
282 South Bridge Road
Singapore 058831

T/WA: +65 8112 8028
IG: @Nonbeiizakaya
OH: Daily 11.30 – 14.30; 17.00 – Midnight

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