A lot of great cooking, we’ve been told over and over again, is about the triumph of ingenuity over material limitations. When your range of ingredients is limited by the seasons or by poverty, when fuel is not plentiful or decomposition and decay threaten your food – these are the circumstances under which cooking styles and dishes became time-honoured classics.
This does not, however, mean that limitations are what makes the food great. And this comes to mind when the manager at Envy Coffee, contrition all over his face, explains why the har jeong gai in the eponymous sandwich has not gone the way of most har jeong gai, into the deep fryer. ‘It’s because open-flame cooking is not allowed here,’ he says. Envy’s answer to that is to grill the marinated patty and reanimate it in house. Personally, my suggested answer would be to go through the cookbook and find another way to season the chicken.
Mind, it isn’t like they can’t cook here – the tomato soup is warming and a good balance of sweet and sour. So how come this misjudgement? This isn’t even the first time I’ve experienced someone inexplicably underestimating the power and intensity of prawn paste. Sin Lee Foods did it too, pairing har jeong gai with an already mild waffle, so the one is invisible while the other is unfulfilled; but at least the chicken there was well fried. Here, a black charcoal bun sandwiches a pale slab of thigh, on which shimmers a sambal sauce, in case there isn’t enough fermentation going on here. It looks well-prepared for all of two seconds, before the smell hits.
And it really hits; it honks at a distance, then drags you into the deep when you eat it, relentless and aggressive. I can tolerate fermented shrimp better than many, but the odour here, combined with the chicken’s rubberiness, is too much. I give up three mouthfuls in.
The experience is redeemed to a certain extent, though, by the astute manager, who asks if something’s wrong and quickly offers to replace the dish. In a good restaurant elsewhere one might half-expect this, but in Singapore it is a very pleasant surprise. The egg mayo croissant, which doesn’t require any flames to be left open, is a lot more serviceable – croissant flaky, the filling cold and creamy. The space is also nicely done up for its intended clientele – wood tables, quirky posters, blackboard menus, multicoloured chairs. If you like this sort of thing you’ve been in several cafes like this already.
I’m more resistant to the charms of quirky posters though, so Envy Coffee is a bit of a curate’s egg – and also a curate’s egg that’s buried in the middle of Fusionopolis. That’s good for them, because it means they’ve got a great captive audience. Also good for me, because I don’t even need to consider going back.
I don’t know if the waffle tide is finally receding in Singapore, having been doing my best to avoid the things for some time now. Is it big bricks of toast that have usurped it? Or maybe big pancakes that can double for pillows? Who knows. But Griddy Gourmet Waffles has forged ahead nonetheless, with waffles both sweet and savoury.
And you know, with a place like this – a relatively new opening in the basement of Westgate – I really want to be nice and to put in some good words for them. So here goes – I think it is a cute touch to serve the cream of mushroom in little pots. Sadly that has little bearing on the soup’s quality. The taste is there, the underlying stock easily discernible as well as the mushrooms. But the soup itself has split, and the cream has curdled into a gravelly consistency.
In terms of wrongness, though, the soup is nothing compared to the main dish. You would think a place would be confident about the dish it puts in its name, but confidence is miles away from this waffle. Already limp when dry, it collapses under the moisture of the chicken breast, which has been grilled with its gristle all in and is slopped with a sickly sweet sauce. Turkey bacon is worse than it could be, and it could never have been very good anyway. In terms of return value, Griddy has the opposite problem from Envy Coffee – the latter is in a place I have no reason to return to, but the former is in a place with plenty of good options. It’s a shame Griddy is not on that list.
1 Fusionopolis Link
Nexus@One-North, #01-04 (map)
Hours: Weekdays, 7.30am – 6pm
Griddy Gourmet Waffles
3 Gateway Drive
Westgate, #B2-K12 (map)
Hours: Daily, 11am – 10pm