This was an invited tasting. Deep gratitude to the hosts and fellow tasters.
It tends to be a good sign when this friend of mine is intrigued, and he most certainly is when he has a bit of the pineapple pork curry at CATO. ‘I’ve never tasted a curry like this before,’ he says. ‘It tastes of salted fish.’ And so it does. More importantly, it actually enhances the ensemble.
In CATO, facing Sri Mariamman temple on the edge of Chinatown, the sense I get from this dish and several others is of ambition. They want every dish to make like that pineapple curry, make people’s eyes go wide. Inevitably, they do not completely succeed. But there is enough to make for several pleasant surprises.
One of my companions on the visit to Roots Kitchen Bar is very quick to nail the vibe of the place. ‘It’s very Shoreditch,’ he says. And he’s right, in several ways. The interior is ‘well-worn’ concrete, baring the brickwork beneath in places. The bar is concrete with Peranakan tiles. Even the location fits, reasonably; we are on the east stretch of Dickson Road, on the fringe of the tumult and noise and scents of a thriving Indian area.
And no doubt the vibe is completely intended by Roots, if their website is any indication. They salute the hungry, which is fair enough for a restaurateur. But they also salute ‘the verge hipsters’, which goes right over my unbearded head. (Is verge an adjective now? What does it mean?) Also, I heartily dislike Shoreditch and the aesthetic. I can only imagine the look on the face of the worker who laid all the concrete on two days ago, and is now being told to chip part of that concrete off the bricks. Let’s hope he wasn’t asked to do it in an ‘ironic, vintage way’.
But surely, you may ask, I already figured that much just by looking at the website. They’ve got photos of the interior and everything. Why go at all, then? At which I point to the pals, a lovely couple who are taking the place far more in its intended spirit, sipping Chardonnay while poring over the menu. They’re liking it. Dear Babette, after all, is for the benefit of readers like them (and you), not for me to be curmudgeonly and correct about everything. So it is incumbent on me to at least try it, and if need be to stand corrected.