Mirrors on the ceiling,
Pink champagne on ice, and she said…
– The Eagles, ‘Hotel California’
I don’t think of the Eagles a lot, but for some reason Symmetry brought them to mind.
Not the food, no; I was still waiting for the food then. It’s 3 in the afternoon, the sun is still trying to immolate all life on the island outside, and I’m sitting in the corner, a curmudgeon among the effortlessly pretty diners. There’s an Andy Warhol Campbell soup pastiche (a meta-pastiche?) on the wall; kerosene and gas lamps hang over the bar; there’s a rusty kettle and a guide to London cafes in ye olde vintage times (2012) on the windowsill. Oh, and my brain is being pounded by deep-bass dance music to within an inch of a migraine.
So as the visitor thinks to himself at Hotel California, this could be heaven, or this could be hell. The jury is out until the waffles are in.
As we all know, Singapore is in the middle of a long, painful shortage of waffles in its cafes. Can’t find the things anywhere these days, it’s tragic. But even if waffles were somehow everywhere, Symmetry’s rendition would still stand out for its looks. The subtle difference between the gold of the custard and the gold of the waffle; that smear of sauce, so dark only its very tip shows a little hint of elderberry purple. They understand the aesthetic principle of stacking, why pyramids look more impressive than office towers – it’s the taper that clinches it. Marshmallows are touched with flame lightly, just lightly crusted.
I would be happy, honestly, to say that the scales tilt decisively here. Oh, if only. Again, this is a dish whose loveliness depends very much on its variety of different components, and at one point I actually lose track and have to reconsult the menu to see what exactly was being served. And that’s when I realise that the beautiful golden custard, rich with a hint of coconut, is in fact a ‘pumpkin coconut custard’. Um… sure, it’s a nice pumpkin colour. But between the richness of coconut and the richness of sweetened egg yolks, the richness of pumpkin just isn’t present.
And I don’t say richness three times just for the fun of it (not solely, anyway). The waffles – a good combination of crisp and softness – are rich with eggy, creamy fragrance; there’s that custard, and then there’s the ice cream on top of it all, kept just on the right side of sickly sweet by vanilla, pleasantly soft and gooey and pooling on the waffles. And rich, of course. The pralines are reduced to little popping crunches in each bite. Chocolate reduced to texture, for crying out loud. Against this tide of decadence the elderberry jam stands, Canute-like, but its floral, acidic flavour gets swamped every time I eat it with something else.
Still, the flavours do mix well, with some little surprises. Every now and then a whiff of cinnamon, fragrant and woody, sneaks in between bites, though I can’t figure out where it is. It could be me hallucinating, but… a chestnut-brown squiggle on the ice cream turns out to be a caramelly hazelnut sauce, or maybe nocciolata, which works so well with the vanilla I don’t know why it isn’t mentioned on the ingredient list.
And yet the question remains, as I glug ice water and latte to bring my taste buds back from Sugar Mountain Land. Heaven or Hell? Well, is a lush assembly of six different kinds of sweetness heaven? How about an assembly where the flavours all roll together and resurface only after a lot of thinking and a peek at the menu? The waitress is distinctly not eager to acknowledge my requests for the bill or my payment, being occupied with punching in order after order at 4 pm on a weekday. So a trial by jury would probably break out the halos and harps. Me, head throbbing with thmp thmp thmp, I’m still not fully convinced.
Since Symmetry is, in its own telling, both restaurant and bar, I might be hearing only half the argument. And you know what, I’m tempted by the other half, as shown in the dinner menu – by the coq au vin, the mere prospect of pork belly. Now to find the earplugs…
Symmetry, 9 Jln Kubor