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I was in the Chinatown area last Sunday and decided to pop by with my friend to grab some dinner. We arrived a little past 7.30pm and was relieved it wasn’t packed like the last time.

We both ordered our favourite beef bibimap and when our orders arrived, I cannot tell you how disappointed we were. Instead of the generous serving of sliced beef that we were used to, the bibimap came with an utterly miserly portion of minced beef. I reckoned there wasn’t any more than a heaping tablespoon of beef mince in it.

After stirring it up, you could barely see or taste any of the beef mince. It was awful and no amount of gochujang could save it. I couldn’t eat more than a few mouthfuls, because it felt like I was eating rice mush with vegetables. My friend tried to drop a subtle hint to the lady owner by asking if chef was changed and then pointing out that the beef portion was much smaller than before. She merely smiled and replied that perhaps the kitchen crew was in a rush. Nothing else was said and done, and I pushed my bowl away after a few more weak attempts at eating it.

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Since my first visit to Togi, I’ve been back a couple of times and it appears that business has been booming for the folks there. On my last visit a few days back, we made the mistake of not making a reservation before dropping by. The place was packed for dinner on a weekday and we had to wait outside together with about half-a-dozen other patrons. Togi has “expanded” its capacity by adding more tables and chairs along the walkway outside its doors. Without a doubt, business is good.

Fortunately, we waited for only about 10 minutes before we got a table. My friend pointed out the framed clippings from the local papers and lifestyle magazines on the wall near our table. Ahh… that explains why Togi’s packed.

In a food-obsessed city as small as ours, a good restaurant is a tough secret to keep. Once featured in the local mass media, it usually gets overwhelmed by the sudden flux of over-eager patrons. Getting a table without a reservation becomes impossible. Service and, too often, food quality takes a beating.

I mourned briefly, knowing that I will be giving Togi a miss for the next couple of months until all the fuss has blown over. Ah well.

Needless to say, I did not enjoy my dinner at Togi’s as much as I usually do. The already tiny place was packed and so noisy that I could barely hear my companions. It took a while before we were served our tea and appetisers. When our orders were served, we had to help ourselves to the hot sauce jar and napkins from another table because they were missing from ours. The familiar lady owner kept her usual smile the whole time we were there, and the wait staff was trying their best to cope with the crowd, but we felt that, perhaps, it was all just a little too much for them.

The bibimbap was still good but I will probably wait a while before coming back.

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On a recent escapade to Chinatown to hunt down a handphone pouch (yes, you heard right, a handphone pouch) with a friend, I stumbled upon a cosy little Korean restaurant, Togi, along Mosque Street. We were looking for a dinner place when we walked pass this little hole-in-the-wall that was very simply furnished but was almost packed. We stepped in after seeing a few Koreans, and had to wait a while before a table was available.

I didn’t feel like having meat and decided on the seafood ramen soup, while my friend went for the Ginseng chicken soup ($17.50). Our orders were taken by the restaurant owner who was an attractive Korean lady. When I asked if the seafood soup was spicy (I wanted something to wake my taste buds), she recommended the spicy seafood soup with tofu ($9.50) and I decided to go along with it.

Instead of plain water, we were served a refreshing chilled tea which, we were told, was brewed from the root of a plant. It was pleasant and we found it to be the perfect palate cleanser during the course of the meal. Shortly after our orders were taken, we were pleasantly surprised to be served 6 different appetisers. They were:

  1. Cabbage kimchi – with strong hint of white vinegar
  2. Potato and egg salad – generous with the eggs, contrasts nicely with the spicy kimchi
  3. Spicy anchovies – we wondered if it was a local adaptation because it reminded us somewhat of the ikan billis that comes with nasi lemak
  4. Boiled spinach with a hint of miso
  5. Finely shredded cabbage kimchi
  6. Mixed vegetable kimchi – tastes remarkably like our local achar

It was a generous serving for 2 ladies, and frankly quite tasty. We didn’t manage to finish it all, but it had us looking forward to our mains.

My seafood soup came with prawns, clams, squid, crab stick (the only item in the pot that I wasn’t too fond of) and plenty of tofu. Although the soup did looked bright red and fearsomely spicy, it was actually quite good and not at all tongue-numbing. The soup had a natural sweetness and had just the right amount of heat to jumpstart my appetite.

The ginseng chicken, cooked whole, arrived still bubbling hot in its earthen hotpot. The lady owner came shortly after to cut the chicken up into smaller pieces with a pair of meat scissors. From what we can tell, the soup was cooked with ginseng, dried red dates, and whole garlic cloves. Interestingly, the chicken was also stuffed with some glutinous rice. I have never had glutinous rice in soup before, and quite unlike our normal steamed version, it retained some of its bite, reminding us a little of Teochew-styled porridge. I’m not particular fond of ginseng soup (or most herbal soups for that matter) but my friend found it to be fairly good, with a a touch of “kum-ness” typical of such soups.

Our meal came up to about $30, and we only managed to polish off half of the ginseng chicken. Service was good, and from our conversations with the lady owner, we found out that her mother is responsible for the cooking and most of staff in the restaurant was family. The restaurant offered great value for money, serving mostly down-to-earth home-styled dishes. My rating? I’ll certainly be back for more. And I’ll remember to take pictures the next time round.

[Update 2007.05.06 – See my latest post on Togi. Suffice to say things have changed since my first visit.]

Togi Korean Restaurant
11 Mosque Street
Singapore 059491
Tel: 62210830
Closed on Sundays

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