Review: Mr & Mrs Maxwell, Club Street

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This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.

Going up the Ann Siang Hill footpath, I come upon the quieter end of Club Street and the hotel where Mr & Mrs Maxwell reside and realise I’ve been here before. On some Sunday in 2015 I had, by misadventure, ended up in the post-apocalyptic silence of Telok Ayer, and they were the only place open. Inside the gorgeous, dimly lit Art Deco space, I had their signature chicken rice (pretty good) and thought, well, the menu writer clearly hasn’t got the memo about the decor.

When I tell Azrin, the manager during the tasting, about my previous experience he laughs and assures me that they’ve brought the food in line with the looks. They’ve also done a bit more brushing up. Now MMM looks even more like a place where Gatsby might have practiced his party-hosting skills before graduating to West Egg – it is a lovely Art Deco parlour, from the bright and warm lighting to the splendid porphyry bar counter. Coffee table books and curios line the shelves, but the sofas have been replaced with sleeker dark wood tables. 

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Review: Montana (and Companions), Selegie Road

Montana Selegie Road Interiors.JPG

This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.

The Portuguese Man o’ War is a remarkable beast. (Stay with me, I haven’t lost the thread, I’m going on to Montana Brew Bar.) It looks like one animal, but it’s actually a conglomeration of different animals all sharing the same ‘body’ – one to float, some to sting, others to digest.

It’s an arrangement that works well for the Man o’ War, and the recent trend for Singapore’s cafes seems to be to take the cue from these marine wonders, except that instead of stingers and floats we instead have concepts. Montana has gone down this evolutionary path too. From their original glass-fronted spot at the foot of PoMo, they’ve expanded upwards onto an airy second floor space, and have wasted no time spawning more concepts. Montana is upstairs, along with a doughnut focused space called Fabulous Dough; downstairs is South Bronx, focusing on burgers and chips.

At first glance, I’m not sure it is the best arrangement. I can imagine having a burger and a waffle in one sitting, but not if I have to shuffle up and down the stairs just to order it. Or at least this is what I thought before I saw anything of their waffles or their burgers. Now I will just like to assure my readers that it’s probably fine to choose just one. 

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Babette Unleashed: Envy Coffee and Griddy Gourmet Waffles

Envy Coffee Fusionopolis Interior

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. 

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Review: The Betterfield, Waterloo Street

The Betterfield Waterloo St Steak Closeup

The Betterfield Waterloo St Interior

How did we ever use to cope before food hunting apps became a thing? I for one would never have found The Betterfield without guidance, or even suspected that Waterloo Centre would have such a shop. To get to it from Waterloo Street you pass through spare parts shops black with motor oil, heavy with the reek of rubber, and printing shops with tinted glass doors to reach the building’s flank where the bistro sits facing a wall.

It’s almost the textbook definition of an unpromising location for a bistro and cafe. And that is precisely why Betterfield excites me. So well hidden in meatspace, the seven-month-old joint has nonetheless garnered hundreds of recommendations on the app I use. The widespread use of such crowdsourced platforms, where intrepid people can delve into nooks and crannies for the rest to follow, will be – maybe already is – the key to viability in a food scene still so heavily dependent on location. And when it turns up something like the Betterfield, all the, well, better. 

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Review: Curious Palette, Prinsep Street

Curious Palette Entrance

Review: Curious Palette, Prinsep Street

The narrow cave barely allowed passage,

But after a few tens of paces

The world opened into spacious brightness…

— Tao Yuanming 陶渊明 (365-427), ‘On the Peach Blossom Spring’

It’s almost like they’re trying not to be discovered, the folks at Curious Palette. Along a stretch of shophouse bars and cafes with all the tried and tested lures dangling out – upper-floor signboards, greeters at the gates – they’ve opted for a waist-high blackboard with the shop name thinly chalked in, placed to the side of the glass door, half hidden behind a step. It’s almost like they’re hiding in shame, and it turns out they are, as I order the seven spiced chai latte and the svelte server is forced to divulge their terrible secret.

‘Um, our cinnamon hasn’t actually come in yet, so would you still like your seven (six) spice chai latte?’ Quelle horreur.

Well, every new restaurant needs a little while to get things in order, and Curious Palette is very new indeed. The fourth cafe by Ryan Tan of Papa Palheta and Strangers’ Reunion, its feel is more stripped down, adapted to the long, narrow space it’s taken over – skylights for abundant natural lighting, fishbowl lamp bulbs and strategically placed staghorn ferns. Inside, the long counter forms the centrepiece of the setting; where it’s sleek and unadorned, the dishes and drinks that issue from it are big, generous affairs.

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Review: RoyceMary Cafe, Sembawang, and Choupinette, Bukit Timah

Well, hey, the decor's nice at least.
Well, hey, the decor’s nice at least.

‘He’s taking pictures of us,’ says one of the staff to another, when the table of chatty ladies beside me leaves and I can take the picture above of the counter and interior without having to stand up. Clearly I wouldn’t last long as a war correspondent. And he doesn’t say it in a nice way either – you’d think the picture above was an exposé of some atrocity, like gavage des canards in a public setting or something.

This would galling enough were it the only issue with the service (it wasn’t). But how did it become this way? Choupinette has been established in the area since I was a student, though students were never really part of their clientele (or were not then, who knows about our current, prosperous age), and it was here that I tried Eggs Benedict for the first time. Good eggs, too – they do it straightforwardly, the hollandaise lending buttery fragrance and tang to the yolk and salty bacon, and their baguette crisp and taut, perfect for soaking everything up.

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