Is Starbucks Really That Great?

I used to be a pretty big fan of Starbucks.  I would stop by one when I had time, or when I happened to be near close-by, to get a cup of “fancy” coffee.  I didn’t go often, because of the price, and because there usually wasn’t one that close to where I lived.

What did I like most about Starbucks?  Well, the coffee was decent, but it wasn’t really that great.  The atmosphere in the store is nice, but I never really hung around.  Most of the time I would go through the drive through, or, if I were in a mall, I would get my coffee and get out.  So… what was it?  After spending some time thinking about it, I realized that the only reason I really went to Starbucks is because of effective marketing.  It wasn’t for the cheesy atmosphere and it definitely wasn’t for the so-so coffee.  It was because of how I viewed myself when I was standing there holding a cup with the Starbucks logo emblazoned on it.  Starbucks managed to effectively market itself as a prestigious, premium coffee seller, and because of that, I felt as though I were treating myself to something nice when I purchased their product.  It’s not really bad.  I can’t call them evil for it.  It just means that they did their business the right way and used effective marketing plans.

Having realized that, and having realized that there are far better coffees available than what they offer, I’m no longer as interested in going there anymore.  That’s right!  I’ve found a coffee that is far superior to what Starbucks offers, at a fraction of the cost.  It’s called Kopi O, and it can be found at any hawker center in Singapore.  You won’t be served by a fancy “barrista,” you probably won’t have air conditioning, and I doubt you’d find free wifi (though most wifi in the US locations isn’t free anyways), but you’ll get a damn good cup of coffee that will certainly hit the spot after a meal, or along with your breakfast.

I’m sure those of you in other countries are wondering how that helps you, but use it as an example.  The best coffee, or really the best of anything doesn’t always come with the highest price tag.  So, get out there and take a few chances and explore smaller shops to see if they have a better version of what you’re interested in.

As for myself, I’d take Kopi O over Starbucks any day, which is why I’m glad I found this fantastic little store in the Downtown East mall:

It sells the same stuff as the hawker stalls that sell Kopi O, but it’s located inside the mall.  The prices are a bit higher, but only by about 30 to 50 cents, which is ok, considering its location.  When my wife and I visit the mall to see a movie, we can buy our tickets, have dinner, and then hang out at this little coffee shop while we wait for the show to start.  Oddly enough, this Kopi Alley store is located right next to The Coffee Bean ( a Starbucks clone for those of you not familiar with it), but that doesn’t seem to be hurting its business any.

Manpuku Restaurant, Tampines 1 Mall

A few weeks ago I was checking around the new mall in Tampines (Tampines 1) and I saw the entrance to a restaurant called Manpuku.  The entrance area was jam packed with people in line to get in and people ogling the items on display in the window:

I met up with my wife there during her lunch break and while we were walking around together we even got to see the mascot.  At the time we didn’t know what restaurant or store the mascot represented but it was fun anyways.

We both love to go out and eat, and we particularly love Japanese food, so we were excited about going to check this place out.  We finally made a visit to Manpuku today and it was great!

It wasn’t quite what I expected, in a good and interesting way.  As you get to the head of the line a greeter will ask you how many people are in your party and will then pass you a corresponding number of cards that look and act like credit cards.  The waiter will explain that as you walk around inside the restaurant, you pick different foods from the various stalls and the price of the item is charged to your assigned card.  At the end of your meal, you bring the card to the cashier by the exit and settle your bill.

That’s when I realized that Manpuku isn’t simply one restaurant.  It’s a collection of restaurants acting under one name, serving Japanese style food.  In fact, the place reminded me of a big, themed food court, though a very well appointed one.

Here are some photos we took inside Manpuku:

As you can see from the pictures, the interior of Manpuku is pretty big.  It sits at one end of the mall on the 3rd floor and stretches from front to back.  There are at least half a dozen different mini-restaurants inside, offering everything from skillet plates to sushi.

The prices have a wide range from a bit on the high side (a four piece sushi plate at 38 bucks) to the affordable (my pork okas was 9.90).  I saw quite a few dishes I want to try, and I’m looking forward to going back again.  For this trip, we wound up having a sushi set, a dish called pork okas, and a soup that my wife devoured and said was delicious.  I forgot to ask her what it was and she’s asleep now!  Just thinking about it is making me hungry again!

The above picture is the pork okas.  It has strips of pork along with cabbage, onions, and maybe a few other things cooked into an egg omelette.  It’s topped with four different sauces while it’s still on the grill, giving it a nice design that adds a visually pleasing aspect to the tasty dish.
Like I said, the place is great!  We’re looking forward to our next trip.
One special consideration for anyone planning to go there is that the place is busy.  Expect to wait for up to 15 to 20 minutes for your dish to be prepared, and, unless you’re lucky, another 5 to 10 minutes to get a drink.  A good workaround for this is having one person hold the table for you and designating someone else to order and pick-up their food for them.  That way you can leave your food at the table while making trips to get drinks, or other goodies, without having to worry about someone else helping themselves to what you’re going to pay for.

TAN’s Tu Tu Coconut Cake

Looking for something sweet to nibble on while you’re walking around Vivocity mall? Want a snack to enjoy while you’re sitting outside, enjoying the breeze and the wading pools? I really have to recommend that anyone who visits Vivocity stops by this stand and picks up some of these coconut cakes. They’re about the size of your palm and about half an inch thick. They’re made fresh as you wait, and they’re best when eaten warm. The outside is some sort of chewy dough and the inside is sweetened coconut shavings. It looks like it’s mixed with brown sugar, but it still maintains a mellow, even taste. I know, I know, I should’ve taken a photo of them, but we gobbled them down too fast!

If my recommendation isn’t enough, you can see in the picture above that her stall was featured in The Straits Times, which is the major newspaper for Singapore.

The last time we were at Vivocity, which I think was in September, we tried these coconut cakes on a whim. I mean, why not? You get four for only 2 SGD. They were incredible, and since then I’ve talked about them frequently, reminding my wife that the next time we’re there we should get more. Sure enough, almost right after arriving at the mall we made our way to this cart and snagged a little bag of four of them. We then found a cozy spot outside with a view of the water, got comfortable and enjoyed them.

The shop lady making our coconut cakes.

A cruise ship docked in front of the mall, and you can also see the Sentosa cable cars that go between Sentosa and the main island of Singapore.

Shokudo

This sign wasn’t thought through to well was it? I took this photo last night while my wife and I were walking up and down Orchard Road looking at the Christmas decorations and taking pictures. We were coming out of one of the malls where we’d stopped to have dinner at Subway. When we saw the sign we both cracked up laughing!

Apparently there’s a new Shokudo establishment that has just opened, but what exactly is on the menu? Judging by where the illustrated guy’s hand is, do I really want to know? Shall we have one serving or two?

My wife told me I should write about it. Shokudo definitely serves… interesting… food. A couple of months ago a new Shokudo Japanese Pasta restaurant opened at a mall downtown near Orchard Road. I think it’s called Cineliesure Orchard. When I had first come here in March for a few weeks we saw that it was being built. It looked like it was going to be a well set up restaurant and we were excited to see what it was going to be. So, a few months ago when it was finally open we went to check it out. The name of the place kind of put us off. Who associates Japan with fine pasta? There was a long line of people waiting to eat there though, so we thought it must be great! We were disappointed, unfortunately.

The service there was great. I’ll give them that. The employees are friendly, attentive, and our food was brought to us without much of a wait. Plus, it’s in a great location. Depending on where you sit you can look out onto the street below, which is usually bustling with people, or you can look out on the mall. The mall is designed so that the center is open from top to bottom, with stores around the outside edge of the building. You can see quite a bit from the railings, and from the tables in Shokudo. The prices were a bit steep, but from what we’d seen of the restaurant we took it in stride. Most good restaurants have high prices here. The food itself was the let down. I can’t comment on what my wife ate, except that she said it wasn’t very good. She didn’t even finish half of the dish. My dish had a bland, homogeneous taste. The whole thing tasted the same, from the sauce and what was in it to the pasta. It all had an overbearing, unpleasant fishy taste to it. I didn’t finish my meal either.

So, that was the first and last time we went to Shokudo. Now, for all of our pasta needs, we stick with Pastamania. It’s cheaper by half, and twice as good. Not to mention that there’s a Pastamania in sight of this Shokudo restaurant. The Cathay Cineleisure has a great movie theater in it. It’s the one we go to the most. It advertises that it has the only fully THX certified sound system in Singapore. Plus, it’s comfortable and shows all the new movies. So, when we want to eat pasta before we watch our movie, Pastamania is where we go.