#1 Salted & Hung
Photo: Salted & Hung
In addition to its fame as the place to go for house-cured meats, Salted & Hung is also often viewed a place for nose-to-tail dining. For the squeamish, rest assured that the flavours are familiar, albeit presented in interesting ways; for the adventurous, understand that you wouldn't be served over-the-top off-cuts — at least not at the weekend brunch — but rest assured that there's still plenty of bold, audacious play.
It's also ridiculously great value: There's a small selection of cured meats (we even spotted venison loin!), pickles and salads at the Charcuterie & Antipasti bar; everything else is cooked upon order, as many portions as you want.
The menu is succinct but impactful — three small plates where the #eggporn action's at, six large plates for sharing, and three dessert options to end things on a quirky note. They've got one of the cheapest booze deals we've seen in town, at $30 for two hours of free-flow prosecco, beer and house wines.
The best spot in the house is by the counter; here you can observe the calm, steady hum of action and numerous opportunities abound for you to kaypoh about the food.
Freemantle Octopus: The version here makes a prime case for re-thinking how we cook and consume octopus. You get a smoky leg that's a lot chewier than the sous-vided stuff you might have been used to – but never rubbery — and a little soft, undercooked at the centre. It's chef Drew Nocente's way of respecting the beast's natural textures.
Smoked Halibut & Caviar Crostini: The smoked halibut is a thing of beauty. Unlike the majority of its smoked salmon counterparts, this one is cold-smoked at low temperatures so it's still brimming with lots of fresh sweetness. The charred housemade sourdough crostini has lots of smoky oomph, and there's a good smear of bonito butter for a light-handed touch of umami.
Wagyu Ragu, Homemade Pasta & Beef Fat Crumbs: Here's the deal — there's more wagyu ragu than pasta sheets (which is a perfect al dente), and they're mighty generous with those moreish beef fat crumbs (crisp and light, just like tempura, with lots of richness). It's super intense and indulgent, almost like chef Drew was trying to figure out how to pack in as much beefy flavours into the dish as possible.
Price: $58, a la carte buffet; supplementary $20 for free-flow non-alcoholic beverages; supplementary $30 for two hours of free-flow alcoholic beverages
Brunch hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 11.30am-4pm
Where: Salted & Hung, 12 Purvis Street, tel: 6358-3130
#2 Xiao Ya Tou
Photo: Xiao Ya Tou
Several cafes have added Singapore-inspired riffs to their brunch menus — and succeeded — but Xiao Ya Tou perhaps has the most panache.
The name ("xiao ya tou" is an affectionate, colloquial way of addressing a younger girl) and ching chong decor (think ornate Chinese lanterns, nostalgic paraphernalia, and a giant neon sign of the coquettish mascot blowing a pipe) reflect the irreverent style of the restaurant.
That playfulness extends to the menu, which fearlessly borrows and mashes up classics like eggs benedict, chee cheong fun and chai tow kway in their East-meets-West interpretation. The flavours are wacky, but there's lots of heart and confidence (and rightly placed) in the execution; it makes sense when you realise that the owner, Abby Lim, is the same person behind the trailblazing brunch joint, Symmetry.
And with prices hovering in the $13-17 range for pretty hearty mains, this is one spot you can readily return to.
Chee Cheong Fun ($17): Lots of superb wok hei work here, which more than make up for the slightly thicker and chewier cheong fun rolls. Instead of the usual char siew stuffing, they've slapped it with a good many slices of what they call "dongpo beef" — tender, fatty wagyu short ribs, dripping with the deep, salty sweetness of their housemade hoisin sauce.
Unagi Benedict ($16): It's gonna be boring to go back to the traditional eggs benny after this. In this remix, you've got a fried mantou bun for muffins, a zestier yuzu hollandaise instead of the usual, and a hefty piece of unagi for a protein boost. Not that we needed further convincing, but that side of "potato salad" — it's actually mini croquettes draped in a prawn-mayo dressing, with a dollop of flying fish roe for good measure — was pretty dope too.
XYT Chai Tow Kway ($16): Hindsight is 20/20, and after trying the XYT version, you'll wonder why a dish like this hadn't hit the scene sooner. Consider it as deconstructed chai tow kway, with the components teased out in new ways. In the centre is a little mound of perfectly cooked scrambled eggs. Around it: Fluffy triangles of house-made radish cake, all golden and crisp outside; and salty morsels of chye poh tossed with XO sauce and minced lup cheong. Gotta love how this one bridges hawker vibes with brunchy elements.
Price: A la carte
Brunch hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 10am-3.30pm
Where: Xiao Ya Tou, 6 Duxton Hill, tel: 6226-1965
#3 Pim Pam by FOC
Photo: Pim Pam by FOC
The thing about Pim Pam by FOC is that the printed menu doesn't do the food much justice; the "explanatory" line just lists the ingredients. That format's a little too brief, a little too vague to evoke the enthusiasm that chef-and-co-owner Jordi Noguera's cooking deserves. We're gonna try to right that wrong.
Billed as a gastro-bodega, this latest joint by the FOC group has that easy, sunny Mediterranean vibe down pat, from the high ceilings to the spacious open-concept kitchen, to the pastels and reds used for the furnishing. The team working the restaurant is also a bright spot in the local service scene: They're genuinely warm, friendly and helpful; they're thoroughly familiar with the menu and confident with recommendations; and they're always on the ball. Pim Pam is the kind of place that makes you feel thoroughly welcomed and attended to, and not just another four-top they gotta turn over quickly.
For the brunch menu, chef Jordi dug deep into Catalonia's rich food history. He kept the overarching flavour composition and the quintessential ingredients, but he was also quick to share that he had to make occasional concessions to the Singapore context — for instance, the Trinxat is typically rich and heavy to suit the cold climate of the mountainous Pyrenees region it's native to, but that would have been a little overwhelming in our heat.
At other times, he found new ways to amp up the flavours, like serving smoked salmon crostinis on house-baked black olive bread to really deliver the briny notes.
Zucchini 'Lasagna' ($16): It's listed under Salads and 'lasagna' is in quotes because this is really a cold appetiser layered (but not baked) like a lasagne. And it's the perfect dish to open the meal with on a hot day: Jade strips of gently-poached zucchini alternately smeared with a mousse of stracciatella cheese, and garnished with basil pesto, croutons, pine nuts and cherry tomatoes. It's cold, creamy, sweet, crunchy, toasty, tangy all at once.
Pim Pam 'Trinxat' ($16): The dish's namesake, trinxat, is that squat, golden potato 'pancake'. It's a little like the Malays' begedil with a similarly fluffy quality — but the potatoes are a little chunkier; it mixes in shreds of savoy cabbage for sweetness, and diced chorizo for smoky, spicy notes; and it's also much less oily, because it's pan-fried rather than deep-fried. And the eggs! They're soft-centred like a poached egg, but all bronze and crisp and lacy at the edges, which all comes down to some very precise work with oil. Chef eschews bacon strips for grilled, thick-cut pork belly, and there's a modern touch too: Wafer-thin kale chips for an earthy hit. This Trinxat is comfort food that's a little familiar, a little new.
Yoghurt ($10): Believe me, we were very skeptical too. But the wait staff and chef all insisted we give this a try, and it turned out to be one of those transcendent experiences that makes you see an everyday food in a whole new light. Because this jar of yoghurt turned out so airy and silky, almost like a tangy version of French whipped cream, with a faint hint of sweetness. It's so perfect you wouldn't even think about the toppings your order came with (you get a choice of three); you wouldn't want anything to distract you from the sublime luxury of this yoghurt.
Price: A la carte; supplementary $48 for free-flow sangria, cava and beer from noon-3pm
Brunch hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 9am-3pm
Where: Pim Pam by FOC, #01-29 Claymore Connect, 442 Orchard Road, tel: 6100-4242
For the French, Sunday lunch is the sacred family meal, a slow, languorous affair that stretches for hours well into the late afternoon. Every time you think you've reached the end, another dish emerges from the kitchen. Each course is punctuated by lots of chatter — sometimes animated, sometimes a heated debate, other times shrouded in wine-fuelled haze.
That's the kind of cosiness that Audace's (say oh-dahs) new executive chef, Jérémy Gillon, aims to inspire with his weekend brunch.
Just like at Maman's, everything's taken care of, and you'll be thoroughly fed. The brunch is a set menu with six appetisers, five mains (and side dishes), and five desserts. The portions will be adjusted for the table, but safe to say, you should clear your calendar for the afternoon.
The twist is that chef Jérémy's food is less rustic farm-house cooking, more modern French gastronomy. However, he also does it in such a way that the flavours meld cohesively, without the distraction of gels and foams.
Braised carrot: Looks can be deceiving. At first glance, we almost thought this were a dish of simply blanched carrots; the colours were simply too vivid, the edges too neat and clean, the presentation too austere. But make no mistake, the carrots have been braised till really tender, soft enough to be cut with a spoon. And those teeny drops of sauce are not just for plating: The coriander-and-thyme syrup offers an unusual melange of the honeyed and the herbal, whereas the orange paste lends acidity and a lively, bittersweet quality.
Baked seabass: The fish stole the show from the meats on the menu, and the broccoli usurped it. The former, because of the moreish crunchiness of the coating of buckwheat crumble, and the firm, fleshiness of the sea bass; the latter, because of the subtle vegetal sweetness in the velvety broccoli mash, and because of the way those translucent shavings of broccoli (nope, that's not apple) taste of spring.
Orange sorbet: Chef Jérémy is a maven in capturing the crisp flavours of his produce, and this dessert is our favourite example. A spoonful of the orange sorbet feels exactly like biting into a juicy orange, only it's much colder and silkier. And don't snub that orange wheel. Unlike the dry, chewy versions you get in cocktails, this one is brittle and very zippy. The base is a praline paste made with pumpkin seeds, with a lot of deep sweetness and nutty crunch.
Price: $68, set menu
Brunch hours: Sundays, 11.30am-4pm
Where: Audace Bar & Restaurant, lobby, Wanderlust Hotel, 2 Dickson Road, tel: 6298-1188
It's not every day that you get to eat in a grand, traditional Chinese mansion. But when that opportunity comes in the form of a dim sum buffet, and with a peking duck station to boot, it'll be foolhardy not to seize it.
VLV (it doesn't stand for anything, if you're wondering) is one of those new openings at Clarke Quay that are giving that touristy haunt newfound gourmet creds. Never mind that complex is also home to a courtyard bar and a club lounge; there's lots of soulful cooking to executive head chef Martin Foo's kitchen.
Besides the unlimited peking duck, what sets VLV apart is its selection of Hong Kong street favourites: beef congee, Liwan boat congee, beef brisket and tendon soup, curry fish balls, and egg waffles.
The buffet works like this: You get your fix of peking duck, HK-style curry fish balls, congee, oyster omelette, fried carrot cake etc, and desserts from the live stations; the dim sum, also free-flow, is prepared upon order. As is common at most dim sum buffets, you also get limited portions of zi char dishes like soft-shell chilli crab, steamed fish head, Australian beef hor fun.
Pan Fried Oyster with Egg: The orh luah here is so crisp and redolent with wok hei, that it'll give some of the city's best-loved hawkers a good run for their money. And of course, the generous amount of oysters doesn't hurt either.
Crackling Pork Belly: Chef Martin's siew yoke is one of the best in town, so it'll be criminal to leave the restaurant without trying it. The pork belly have a great ratio of fat to lean meat, and the skin is indeed the kind that'll shatter readily in the mouth. The icing on the cake: The housemade spicy miso sauce which lends caramel-y, umami depth; and the tart radish pickles. He's really got the whole trinity of richness, sweetness, and sourness complete.
Egg Puffs: There's no hassle of queuing, and the egg waffles – freshly baked a la minute – are delightfully crisp and fluffy. The waffles look like rather huge slabs initially, but they're so light that everything disappears easily. By default, your order comes with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, and that hot-cold contrast works pretty well in its favour.
Price: $68, buffet; from $118 with free-flow champagne, house wines, brunch cocktails and beer
Brunch hours: Sundays, 11.30am-1.30pm (first seating), 1.30-3.30pm (second seating)
Where: VLV, #01-02, 3A Merchant's Court, River Valley Road, tel: 6661-0197