A tasting at Cafe Arcadia, Tampines

Tampines! The largest residential estate in Singapore; so well-designed that it won the United Nations World Habitat Award for Excellent Housing Design; so big that it even has its section of people online seeking love (warning: there’s a pop-up on the “love” link, but it’s pretty funny to see so many Tampinites there).

The name “Tampines” (pronounced “Ten-pee-niss”), according to hearsay, was named so during the time when Sir Stamford Raffles decided to see if the legend of the Merlion was true. After a long trek from the Raffles Hotel on Beach Road, he spotted a curious creature and cried, “Oh! I say, that blighter has got 10 p- Quick! Farquhar! After it!”

Quite.

I think the person whom I heard say this smoked something illegal while watching Urotsukidoji and never quite recovered.

Anyway, I was invited by ieat to do a tasting at the newly opened Cafe Arcadia in the Tampines Central Community Complex.

It is a medium-sized Hainanese more-restaurant-than-cafe which serves Tze Char and Western Food. For people who don’t know, the Singaporean Hainanese are reknown for their no-nonsense, hearty Western Food, places like the Shaslik and The Ship are legendary.

While the air-conditioning was a little weak for me, Cafe Arcadia is a comfortable place with a nice view of the street corner. Our job was to help tweak the menu and to see what is a reasonable price to charge for certain items.

Here are my tasting notes:

First up was the Prime Roast.

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Served with a baked potato and salad, the roast had a very interesting flavour. Slightly sweet and savoury, almost like a ham. The unfortunate part was the meat was cooked at too high a temperature for too long.

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While this gave the surface of the beef a pleasant charring, it dried out the meat which even the blood red core could not help. A better way would be to start with a high temperature to crisp the meat surface, once charred, lower the temperature to cook the rest of the meat.

Of course, the reverse, i.e. low temperature first then a quick high temperature charring works as well. For the really impatient, deep frying seems to work (for that crisp surface) too. 😉

The baked potato was floury and fell apart. I believe that there wasn’t enough salad cream (Mayo for you Yanks) and I saw many people sprinkling lots of pepper and salt on it.

A friend of ours was on a special diet and had to order their braised Tofu and Steamed Herbal Chicken.

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It was very nice. The Tofu and vegetables had a slightly sweet taste and went very well with rice as the cabbage absorbed all the wonderful flavours. The steamed chicken was a little tough but the broth was ok, not herbally strong but had a slightly sweet after taste.

The fish head curry was another thing though.

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Again, the sweetness overwhelmed everything. The curry was fragrant and watery with a good coconutty taste, but alas, too much brown sugar, I think.

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The long beans were great. It was so good that I only got to sample a few strands. Here the sweetness prevailed once again. Ikan Bilis and long beans are naturally sweet, so I am not sure why the kitchen pushed the sweetness over the edge.

The beans itself almost had that “wok hei” taste but it missed ever so slightly. I think in time Cafe Arcadia will get it right.

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The Oxtail was another variation on the sweetness theme. However, the meat was nicely done. Soft yet slightly chewy. Would be good if there were carrots, peas and potatoes in the stew though.

Upon our suggestion, Terence Foo, the owner re-did the beef in a different style.

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It took two tries to get it right, once with the flank another with a part I can’t quite remember. This had potential; savoury with the green peppers (he got the “Wok Hei”!) imparting a clean peppery taste. Just need a lighter touch with the sugar. 😉

All in all, I think Cafe Arcadia should abandon its foray into Western Food and concentrate on what it got almost right, the homestyle cooking known in Singapore as Tze Char.

And it should really tone down the use of sugar.


Posted on 28th Oct 2006 in Food and Drink, Hainanese, Tze Char, Western

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