The K-craze in food is still going strong, and its newest rep is the ice kacang-like bingsu. Ong Huiqi and Michelle Fong eat their way through the recent bloom of bingsu stores to find the ones worth plonking money down for.
Loud K-pop music greets you as soon as you emerge on the fifth floor of Orchard Central, where this café sits. We try its most Instagram-ed treat, the green tea bingsu ($13.90), which while scoring on looks, could have fared better in the taste department. The matcha ice-cream, though flavourful, overshadowed the mildly milky shaved ice. The serving size is fair for its price, but the ice melts quickly, forcing you to dig in quick, before it melts into a watery sea of diluted green tea.
The cold favourite at this Chinatown dessert café is the classic patbingsu – red bean and sweet potato shaved ice ($12.80). It's appropriately milky and generously topped with sweet potato paste, red beans, red bean mochi and almond flakes. While we don’t normally like red bean, it is used here in a way that compliments the other ingredients, which means that we polish off everything. The quirky contemporary art fixtures (which you can bring home for a price) and soothing Korean ballads playing in the background deserve an honourable mention too – it feels like we are in Seoul.
One of the bestsellers here is the red bean bingsu ($6.80). It comes in a sizeable serving for two or three people to share. However, the ingredient combinations are odd – they had the usual red bean with almond flakes and cornflakes with rice cakes. The ice is finely shaved and smooth but the overall texture is uneven, with some parts milkier than others. The liberal use of cornflakes also backfired, overpowering other flavours with sugar. All in all, though, it did well, and is a good way to sate cravings when you're low on cash.
Here, from the sea of fruit and candy-inspired desserts, we tuck into the injeolmi (soybean powder) bingsu ($12.90), one of the more traditional choices. This towering bowl is dusted in soybean powder and studded with almond and rice cakes (similar in texture to muah chee) and comes with a side cup of condensed milk for you to use as a sweetener. Every element plays well together, from the smoothly shaved iced milk to the light powder that flavours every bite. If you can control yourself, let the bingsu settle a little before you dig in – the slightly melted ice clings better to the powder then.
This homegrown brand is more well-known for its fried chicken. But the watermelon bingsu is second on their list of favourites. Clearly, no effort has been spared in its presentation– it's served in a watermelon shell on a wooden tray and includes a large dollop of ice cream perched on its tip, surrounded by watermelon balls. Yet, for all its good looks, the ice is thick and coarse and the milk flavour isn’t as distinct as we expected it to be. Also, $18 for the mini bingsu (there's monster watermelon bingsu for $30, only available at the Centrepoint outlet) is quite a bit to shell for something that doesn’t exactly blow our minds. We’d come back for the chicken, but not the bingsu.
The injeolmi bingsu ($14.90) is good to share among three and comes with finely shaved ice that only tastes milky when you get to the bottom. It’s also topped generously with soybean powder, rice cakes and almond powder, so we recommend you mix everything in before you start eating, otherwise you will, like us, eat plain milk ice once the delectable toppings are finished.