From The Straits Times    |

Vitel Tone
Image: Open Door Policy 


I would love to have a healthier diet, but my social life is the problem. If I suggest a salad bar, my male friends balk. Or if my friends suggest pizza for dinner, I cave to temptation. It’s easy to find restaurants that cater solely for the #eatclean movement, but it’s not as simple to find establishments that keep everyone (from the carnivores to the vegans) happy.

The problem, my vegetarian friend says, is twofold. One, you don’t want to seem like that picky eater whom everyone has to accommodate. But on the other hand, if they don’t take your diet into consideration, you end up having to pick at the scant options in the menu that cater to your needs. Chances are, these options are either token soups or salads, or don’t taste that great anyway. And for people who have enforced dietary restrictions (such as being lactose intolerant), well, it’s a bummer. 

So can’t we just all get along? Thanks to an increasing number of restaurants willing to cater to all palates, you can.  


For the friend who is gluten and dairy-free: Open Door Policy

Hipster favourite Open Door Policy went gone gluten-free and dairy-free (that’s GFDF to the uninitiated) last year, and has recently revamped their menu with 15 new dishes. There are no exceptions here: in fact, so strict is this rule that if you’re planning on bringing in a cake for a special occasion, it needs to be GFDF as well. To the cynics: the planter boxes of flourishing herbs lining the walls aren’t just grown for show. The herbs are harvested in the morning to be used for the dishes of the day.


Watercress Soup
Image: Open Door Policy


There’s nothing more comforting than soup and bread – yes, GFDF bread. We sampled the Watercress Soup ($18), a deep green, velvety smooth concoction served with potato fried bread. It is reminiscent of Chinese watercress soups, but this one is its elevated, elegant older sister. For added richness, there is a silken sous-vide egg (which pairs well with the potato incorporated into the soup), and bursts of plump wolfberries. The other soup on the menu is a Warm Wasabi Greenpea Scallop Soup ($23) which was just as moreish, but more creamy and heavier than the watercress. 


Roasted Pork Rack
Image: Open Door Policy 


In terms of mains, the surprise was the five spice Roasted Pork Rack ($38) with purple sweet potatoes and baby kailan. It was a fuss-free plate (you can’t get any simpler than one protein and two vegetables), but what made the difference was the spicy pineapple sauce. Pork is a tricky meat to get right because of how quickly it dries out, but when paired with the vibrant tartness of the pineapple, it made for a wonderfully tender bite.


Pan Seared Threadfin
Image: Open Door Policy


The Pan Seared Threadfin ($32) deserves a shout out just because of its accompanying Thai mango salad. Sweet and sharp with a kick of chilli at the end, it was the star of the dish and possibly one of the best-dressed salads we’ve ever had.  The crunch of peanuts and hae bee (dried shrimp) also served as a contrasting texture to the meaty white fish. The homemade Thai chilli sauce is made with Sarawak pineapple, coriander, banana shallot and honey, and we could have eaten it by the jar if we could.

Given the GFDF restrictions, we were surprised to see two risottos and pasta dishes on the menu. But the creamy texture that we associate with a good risotto wasn’t compromised – the chef has made up for the lack of dairy by using potato puree in the Vegetable Tempura Risotto ($25) and green pea puree in the Braised Veal Ossobuco ($32) with pea risotto. As for the pasta, it is made in-house with arrowroot or tapioca flour.


Apple Crumble
Image: Open Door Policy 


Regulars at Open Door Policy will remember the restaurant’s signature Apple Crumble ($16). This popular dessert is still on the menu, but after six months of hard work, is now GFDF. The spiced apples are cooked through but still firm, and the crisp crumble is made with coconut oil and oat flour. The cashew nut crème anglaise with vanilla bean is served in a jug at the side, so you can decide how much velvety sauce you want with your dessert. The dish takes twenty minutes to prepare, so you might want to order it while eating your mains. 

Our verdict: Honestly, you’d never know that the flavourful dishes are devoid of gluten or dairy. And with so many options on the menu (7 starters and 9 mains), we’d be surprised if even the pickiest of guests can’t find a favourite.

Open Door Policy is located at 19 Yong Siak Street.


For the friend who’s looking to detox: Angela May Food Chapters

There’s something to be said about eating food that’s less heavy on oil, sugar, and well, everything that’s bad for you. But even know we know fully well that it’s better to order these options, the fear is that they won’t taste as good, or that we’ll leave the table unsatisfied and still craving that cheeseburger. For the feel-good health factor and a full stomach, Angela May Food Chapters gets our vote.


Image: Angela May Food Chapters


We tend to think of vegetables as insubstantial or at its worst, tokenistic salads. The green options at Angela May Food Chapters are anything but. When celebrity chef and owner Angela May was told to cater for a party with vegetarian guests, she hit upon the idea of a meat-free carving station. Her solution was to serve an entire head of roast cauliflower, carved upon request by the guests. It was such a success that a similar version made it onto the restaurant’s menu.


Whole Miso Roasted Cauliflower


Served in its cast iron pan, the Whole Miso Roasted Cauliflower ($36) is firm yet tender, with burnished brown florets. The accompanying corn milk in a side jug was so delicious we mopped it up with leftover bread from another dish. It was subtly sweet, frothily light and perfectly complemented the saltiness of the miso. The cauliflower is substantial enough on its own (in fact it can be shared between two), but for a grain element, it is served with kale and whole grain farro. It reminded us of a risotto, albeit less heavy and coma-inducing.


Truffled Asian Dumplings
Image: Angela May Food Chapters


Another favourite was the Truffled Asian Dumplings ($18), little parcels of tofu, king oyster mushrooms and crunchy water chestnuts encased in translucent skin. Coconut cream may sound heavy, but this was light, silky and fragrant with kaffir lime leaves. We scoffed the lot and wanted more.


Spicy Bulgogi Lettuce  Wraps


Protein lovers will be glad to see that most of mains are not vegetarian. Angela May puts a local spin on classics, such as using laksa yoghurt sauce and steamed mantou buns in the Red Curry Prawn Burger ($22). Usually for meat dishes, vegetables are the side show, but not so for the Korean-inspired Spicy Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps ($28), where both beef and greens pull equal weight. The marinade and juices from the thinly-sliced grilled skirt steak have soaked through the spiced sprouts, kale and mango salsa, so that they take on a meaty flavour. The wraps are sizeable (it’s not a one bite situation) and with enough steak to satisfy hungry carnivores.

Our verdict: A meal here leaves you feeling full, satisfied, but content in the knowledge that you have been kind to your body. Also – don’t leave without sampling Angela May’s indulgent choux pastries.

Angela May Food Chapters is located at Robinsons The Heeren, #02-02.


For the friend who’s vegetarian: BAM!

Nothing is expected at this Japanese-Spanish fusion restaurant. Tucked away in Tras Street, BAM! has recently shifted its focus from tapas (which are still available on the menu) to omakase offerings. You can pick between 4, 6 or 8 courses, and have the option of adding sake pairing at an additional cost. BAM! makes our list because they also offer a veggie omakase option. We sampled the 8 course regular and vegetarian omakase options to see if either falls short in comparison.

So here’s the thing. As with most omakase concepts, Executive Chef Pepe Moncayo chooses the dishes depending on the freshness of ingredients available on the day. But while the dishes we write about may not be what you get on your visit, what we can vouch for are the unusual food combinations Chef Pepe put together, and the impressive balance in flavours and textures.

Cold capellini with citron confit, sea and land grapes


My vegetarian companion, who told me that she generally has to eat before meeting her friends for dinner due to a lack of options, was in vegetable heaven. A highlight was the cold capellini with citron confit and sea and land grapes. The delicate al dente noodles were evenly coated in hazelnut and balsamic dressing. If you haven’t had sea grapes before, their texture is akin to that of salmon roe. We were also told that the beautiful edible snake gourd flowers decorating the dish were also locally sourced.


Artichokes with kinshinsai, eggplant and shio kombu

But her favourite was an artichoke, kinshinsai and eggplant dish. Kinshinsai, which are lily buds, added the crunch element while the eggplant puree lent an earthiness. To this flavour combination was the slight bitterness of the artichokes and the tang of the pickles. Pulling it all together was the shio kombu, seasoned kelp that’s making its way onto gourmet plates around the world, thanks to its concentrated umami flavour. Other dishes on the menu included a wonderfully appetising pineapple gazpacho with compressed watermelon, cauliflower sprouts with aromatic sesame sauce and milky scamorza cheese with endive, picked kumquat and sweet onion puree.


Ama ebi, uni, green beans and ponzu jelly


Omnivores, fret not. The food in the regular omakase menu was equally bold in its flavour profiles. Most sashimi fans would have tried ama ebi (sweet shrimp) and uni (sea urchin) at many a Japanese restaurant. But it was the first time that we have seen the two paired with julienned green beans and mixed with ponzu jelly. Uni has a distinctive taste and creamy texture, but it was mitigated by the crunch of the fresh beans, the sweetness of the ama ebi and the tart ponzu jelly.  

Cod fish tripe with cod fish and roots cream


Another exceptional seafood dish was the battered cod fish tripe sitting in a cod fish and artichoke cream. Served with salty shirasu (baby anchovies) and artichoke heart, it was also generously showered with shavings of black truffle. Because the batter on the tripe was so thin and delicately fried, it wasn’t heavy – a good thing considering the menu had 8 courses (which included thinly sliced tender pork shoulder and a perfectly cooked New Zealand grouper).  

Our verdict: We’ve been lucky to try some exceptional food in our line of work, and BAM! is up there with the best. It’s been awhile since we declared vegetables exciting, but this one deserves the high praise. 

BAM! is located at 38 Tras Street.

Omakase prices: 4 courses for $98, 6 courses for $148 and 8 courses for $188. The vegetarian omakase prices are $78 and $98 (not including dessert).