Doing this whole blog thing has really taught me many things, including some things I probably should have known a long time ago. When a friend and former colleague of mine, who now works for Orchard Hotel, brought up Mon Bijou, I nodded along and smiled and said I’d be there, then went off to check Google Maps. And only then did I realise that Orchard Road did not end at the junction with Scotts Road, but went on down to merge with Tanglin.
(Full disclosure: because she’s staff, I had a staff discount on my visits. Thanks, friend!)
Well, looking at it positively, that just means a new neighbourhood to explore, starting with Claymore Connect. Newly refurbished and gradually rolling out its shops, the mall – connected to Orchard Hotel through a subtly positioned walkway – has made a virtue of its location off the main drag. It has the look of a hiding place, a serene refuge for sir and ma’am after a long day of mall foraging. Which would explain why I would never have known about this place, or about this more old-school stretch of Orchard in general.
Just like Claymore Connect, Mon Bijou has done a good job with its location. Perched on a mezzanine, the open-plan cafe is sleekly furnished in gold and pastel tones, and from the furnishings it already seems that variety is their thing – they’ve got everything from high tables to banquettes and armchairs.
More impressive still is the variety of the restaurant’s offerings, most of which is made from scratch in the kitchen. There must be an immense effort going on inside there. The menu is a long one, with everything from all-day breakfast to nachos and pancakes – and they’ve also got a display with cakes, macarons and choux puffs. There are some ten varieties of tea, which you can smell before you make a decision. It all looks and sounds good, in a jack of all trades way.
I was never a fan of waffles, but the ones here – crunchy and airy on first bite, yet still chewy – are good specimens of their kind. They pale in comparison to the buttermilk pancakes, though – well seared, just a little crisp at the fringe and fluffy in the centre, fragrant with Maillard products and a slightest hint of char. The accompaniments are a mixture of obviously sensible (a glossy, thick chocolate syrup, and a banana compote with a liquor-like fragrance) and the unexpectedly sensible (buttery sable bits that add a little crumblyness to the ensemble).
On another visit, exhausted from a half-day of fruitless food hunting, I plunge into the savoury section. Despite being advertised as a light bite, the slider trio is substantial. Three buns, their internal lightness offset by a generous glazing of butter, each house a different flavour – a standard cheese burger, a ngo hiang patty and their trademark, breaded crab patty. Beef, perhaps due to the small size, is overdone, but the ngo hiang is an interesting innovation – lightly spiced and more finely ground than the hawker rendition.
The highlight, though, is the crab patty, the pressed threads of crabmeat mixed with a little celery to enhance sweetness; mango salsa melds nicely with the marine sweetness, which is why it’s a pity there isn’t more of the salsa. For fries they’ve exercised admirable restraint and kept to paprika. And that’s good – smoky and a little fruity, paprika is a lot more appropriate in my opinion as an accompaniment for fries than truffle of the oil thereof.
When the nachos, another ‘light bite’, arrives, I start wondering if the light bite section is for guests from Brobdingnag or something. The dish is, well, conventional – under the litter of guacamole, fresh salsa and lettuce shreds lies a slab of melted cheese and chilli, beneath which hide the nachos. The toppings have definitely overtaken the nachos, but the only flaw about that, is that all the loading has rendered much of the nachos soggy below. Maybe they would do better letting the customers pile on the toppings themselves? But it definitely tastes as one expects a good bowl of nachos to taste – the flavours all distinct but mutually friendly, cheese appropriately charred and tangy, guacamole smooth with a hint of salt.
I realise I have been using words like ‘sensible’ and ‘appropriate’ a lot here, which I think sums it up nicely – very little is surprising about Mon Bijou, except perhaps for the portion sizes. Combined with the spacious, bright atrium of Claymore Connect, Mon Bijou is a relaxed place which understands its setting. They have taken a nice open balcony, done it up well, and the kitchen is bringing out food that has and does exactly what it says on the menu; even the innovations are gently innovative, as with the caution in five-spicing their patties.
It’s sensible; it’s appropriate. And there’s nothing wrong with that, when it’s done with proper effort and thought, as is the case here. Mon Bijou is conventional in the way a little black dress is conventional. And as for their wide range of pastries, I’ve tried their cookies – plenty of simple caramel fragrance in the basic dough – and the durian choux puff, the durian flesh roughly pureed to retain a little fibrous texture. It works for me. People often forget that there’s a next line to ‘jack of all trades, master of none’, which goes ‘oftentimes better than a master of one’.
442 Orchard Road
Claymore Connect, #01-19/20