The Disgruntled Chef on Dempsey Road

For the record, there’s nothing disgruntled or grumpy or grouchy about the Disgruntled Chef. This brasserie/gastrobar in Singapore may sport a gimmicky name, but once you get past that, you discover that the food here is pretty darn good.

Because it occupies a somewhat sunken corner of Dempsey Road (a former army camp and barracks) abutting an overgrown backyard, the Disgruntled Chef has a quiet, hidden-away feel, with its contemporary-style -meets-colonial-plantation-chic vibes. It offers an extensive range of good cocktails and a food menu comprising simply ‘big plates and small plates’ that encourage laissez faire dining.

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I loved the delicate scallop carpaccio cleverly served with soy brown butter and konbu to add depth of flavour, then lifted by the pop of ikura and the freshness of lime. The beet cured salmon was a playground of flavours from light gin-infused cucumbers, to piquant horseradish and mustard and I loved the Disgruntled Chef’s Mac & Cheese ($29++) — a savoury mess of calorie busting goodness, made posh with crayfish and black truffle.

I was heartened to see suckling pig  on the menu, listed under ‘big plates’. It was rather good, with a delicate crackle of crackling, juicy meat that fell away nicely — but perhaps tasting a little gamey. Unfortunately it wasn’t that big a plate, perhaps the size of a light entree, and I felt it was overpriced at S$68.

But where Disgruntled Chef’s new menu really shines is its range of 12 brunch tartines, which a waitress rather unceremoniously described as “open faced sandwiches”. But these are no ordinary sandwiches, sporting luxurious, sometimes creative toppings, and all you need for a light but no less exquisite meal, paired with a cocktail or wine.

The Victorien Sardou ($25++), filled with hearty chunks of lobster and savoury melted gruyere hits the right spot, and the Turkish, is pita bread topped with imam bayaldi, pinenuts and mint.

But of the savoury tartines, nothing beats the luxurious Hortense Laborie ($25++) which perfectly demonstrates how a simple food can be elevated to heights of indulgence. No doubt named after the main protagonist of the movie ‘Haute Cuisine’, this ‘sandwich’ if one can call it merely that is topped with duck confit, foie gras and a side dish of truffled egg cocotte.

Similarly I love the Elvis ($20++), comprising thick crisp French toast of fruit and nut bread slathered with Nutella, bananas and a side serving of ice cream and well worth busting your calorie quota for. The Marie Antoinette ($20++) is brioche with almond cream, prunes and armagnac ice cream, and the Italian offers balsamic strawberries with ricotta and basil.

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There are other desserts too, if bread is not your thing. The most intriguing is the Roquefort Magnum, a blue cheese flavoured ice cream on a stick covered in a crisp chocolate coating – just like the Magnum ice creams that you get in the supermarkets. No indeed, it tastes better than it sounds.

The Disgruntled Chef’s cocktail menu is also worth exploring. Considering it’s not a dedicated cocktail bar, the quality and creativity of its tipples may be a pleasant surprise. I really liked the Sea Salt and Chilli Margarita ($18++) made of Don Julio Reposada, lime, honey and topped with sea salt air. While I needed some persuasion to try this — I don’t like my drinks savoury — this turned out mainly citrusy and refreshing with only a hint of chilli and salt to give it a background zing. The G&T ($18++) is made from Hendrick’s Gin no less, and Thai Basil Caiprissima ($16++) was a nice concoction of rum, lime and soda with a touch of basil.

My only beef with the Disgruntled Chef is that the portions are not big enough to fill you, especially if you came with an empty, growling stomach. That means ordering more dishes, and hence landing a bigger bill to get the job done. I wish the portions were bigger to be in line with the pricing, or the other way round.

Apart from that, credit must go to the creatively delectable food that the chef churns out here, and indeed the solid cocktails which are overshadowed by the new, bespoke  bars that have been opening around town.  The fact is, despite my grumbling, the Disgruntled Chef is a nice restaurant to go to, and I would return again. But with a half filled belly and the right frame of mind — to have some good drinks and nibbles to warm your belly.

26B Dempsey Rd
Singapore 247693
Tel: +65 6476 5305

Manhattan – The Booziest Sunday Brunch in Singapore

If Pan Pacific Singapore’s Edge makes brunch a wholesome, super-long afternoon indulgence, Manhattan at the Regent Hotel makes it super sexy, and all you’ll want to do at the end of it is crawl home in an alcohol-infused haze and nap the afternoon away.  Brunch at a bar? Yes, complete with all the booze and oysters to make you totally forget the imminent onslaught of Monday. If you’re from out of town, make this a ‘must-do’  on your itinerary.

The menu isn’t huge, but this is a different kind of brunch. Focused, boozy and sublime, the main act here is the heady cocktails by Ricky Paiva, Manhattan’s celebrated, resplendently mustachioed bartender who’s all about his rick house and barrel ageing.

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For $150++, the drinks that flow are eight cocktails, including a dedicated Bloody Mary counter (more about that later), wines and beer. You could top up S$45 for a Billecart-Salmon Champagne option but why bother when there’s already a perfectly decent Bellini (with ‘fresh pressed seasonal juice’) for the asking?

Cocooned in the darkened, decidedly grown up interiors of generous leather sofas and dark wood accents, you’re first welcomed with a drink of Sipsmith Summer Bowl, a refreshing tipple of fresh berries, Ford’s Gin and East Imperial Mombasa Ginger Beer — drippingly exotic names that sets the tone for bespoke drinking on a Sunday morning.

Take your time, drink in hand, and survey the spread – the better to strategise your eating. If you’re a Bloody Mary sort of person, check out the dedicated Bloody Mary stand with a choice of spirits – gin, tequila or vodka – with which to base your drink. Just beside it is the rickhouse with a splendid display of vegetables, spices and sauces — not a salad bar, but the garnishes and additions which you can pick to augment your Bloody Mary or Maria. Now that’s making a big deal out of a small drink.

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The food menu isn’t massive, but it’s more than adequate. Pick at freshly shucked oysters, Maine lobster and  prawns, a selection of ceviches and the classic prawn cocktail. The Alaskan crab salad was good by the way. Then move on to the ‘breakfast’ a la minute offerings: lovely small pancakes with sweet braised apples and maple syrup and ‘bacon & egg’. Here, the egg is done sous vide so the yolk is drippingly creamy and the whites are wobbly tender, then it is breaded and deep fried. Crisp then creamy — a gustatory contrast made in heaven. Don’t miss the smoked foie gras, served with cherries, a risotto of barley and smokey onion rings, and the juicy pork sliders.

Smoked Foie Gras

Skip the NY Strip and the necessary salad bar, and make my way to the bagel station. It’s a bit of a playground here – pick your own mini bagel, a range of homemade cream cheeses and the various cold cuts and things that you want to stuff it with. There’s often a queue, so make your order and come back later to pick it up. The bagels were soft and chewy – really nice, even for someone who’s not a fan of bagels in general. The cheese section in Manhattan’s Ingredients Room is also great – lots of unusual, mainly American cheeses like the Nicasio Washed-Rind Cheese and Point Reyes Blue Cheese.

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Make room for desserts, which were very prettily laid out. Lots of delicate little morsels — I loved the  oreo cheesecake (which looks like the actual oreo cookie but don’t be fooled) and the chocolate cupcake. Look out for the little hamburgers as well.
And of course, don’t forget to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Manhattan’s potions are all pretty potent and nicely balanced. To refresh, get the Bellini with fresh pressed juice, La Bon Vie, a gin and citrus cocktail, and the Sunday Spritz with Mancino Bianco Ambrato Vermouth and house-made grenadine. Leave the heavier, smokier tipples, Ward Eight and Old Cuban, to later.

Strictly adults only, Sunday Brunch at Manhattan takes food and tipples to another level. Very heady, pretty hedonistic – an all on an early Sunday morning! Do your long run before brunch, for you’ll surely not be able to run straight after that.

 

Regent Singapore
1 Cuscaden Road, Level 2, Singapore 249715
Tel:  +65 6720 8000
http://www.facebook.com/manhattansg

Old Clifford Pier Stunningly Restored

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I have been waiting for many years for One On The Bund at the Fullerton Bay Hotel to close. The restaurant didn’t really ever take off, with indifferent food, ghastly furniture and an almost sacrilegious use of the special space it so undeservedly occupied – Clifford Pier.

Old Clifford Pier

The latter is an 81-year-old landmark of old Singapore, which, if one was old enough to remember, conveyed hundreds of people onto bumboats and ferries to the outer islands of Singapore, whether for a holiday joyride and picnic, or to Kusu Island for the annual pilgrimage. It was a place suffused with good memories, in an earlier Singapore which had more soul and character than the slick, glossy city it is now. At peak season, Clifford Pier – hot, humid and definitely without air conditioning – was crowded as people jostled to get tickets, and walk the long jetty toward the waiting boats. There were a few vendors there, including a much loved kacang puteh man who sold his array of nuts in narrow paper cones.

With the ‘modernisation’ of Singapore, Clifford Pier was closed, and the bum boats decommissioned. This lovely old building was eventually subsumed into the current and very new Fullerton Bay Hotel; but at least the developers kept the building intact.

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But from the hotel’s opening in the mid 2000s, this beautiful space was leased out to One on The Bund, a restaurant which didn’t seem to fully appreciate the significance of the space it occupied nor did a good job being a restaurant. What a waste of a fabulous space. Since then, I have been waiting for this day to come when the hotel is finally freed of this yoke, and able to turn Clifford Pier around and bring out its full potential.

A couple weeks ago, the hotel launched The Clifford Pier to much fanfare, and I don’t think Clifford Pier has looked so stunning in ages.

The launch party itself set the tone for the restaurant – even if a little contrived – which showed they fully appreciated the significance of this historical building.

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We first assembled in Town Restaurant at The Fullerton Hotel, another historical landmark and formerly Singapore’s General Post Office. From there, we embarked on bumboats – the touristy kind – from its little private jetty down the Singapore River, rounding past Empress Place and the Merlion, then on to Clifford Pier.

It’s such a treat to be disembarking there again after decades of lost memories. According to Chloe, the hotel’s Assistant Director of Marketing Communications, the ride was to give us “a taste of how the pioneers landed in Singapore” way back when. Of course, they weren’t seated quite so comfortably, then welcomed at the Pier with cold towels and iced bandung by hotel staff in suits. But we weren’t complaining.

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To add to the nostalgic 1960s atmosphere, the Fullerton Bay Hotel also set up stalls at the large front terrace of Clifford Pier with authentically old fashioned props – plastic drinks containers lined in green from where a chef ladled out pink bandung, dragon beard candy, ice cream with local bread coloured green and pink, and a cute stall laid out with local biscuits and old fashioned toys like paper balls and pick-up-sticks. Yes, those were only for the launch event but it was such a hoot.

Inside, the huge Clifford Pier building was transformed into a stunning restaurant space, making use of its original high arched ceiling to dramatic effect. Huge chandeliers with maritime inspired chain-links are the visual focus which brought your eyes up to the vaulted white washed ceilings. Underneath plush carpets and bespoke furniture, low coffee tables, proper dining tables and plush seats give it a luxurious indulgent feel. Sit here and you’re in the lap of luxury, in a space is suffused with soft natural light from the arched windows – once open to the elements when it was the original pier.

It used to be a place where every one of every background would wander through – from the labourer and kacang puteh man to the nun, the clerk and businessman. (Now, I can’t help but feel with some regret that this new Clifford Pier, in all its elegant luxury, would not be half as accessible to everyone as before.)

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As the hotel’s new all-day dining restaurant though, the Clifford Pier plays up on local flavours – a tricky thing to succeed in doing here. You won’t come here all the way just for the food, let’s be honest. Char kway teow ($16), chai tow kway ($16) and laksa ($19). But see it as a full experience – with gorgeous historical setting and ensconced in prettiness – and it’s worth the occasional visit….particularly if you have foreign friends in town, or if you have something to celebrate. It would be such great fun to bring mum and dad here for a walk down memory lane too. Of course, we remember too that the surrounding area of old Clifford Pier and the Fullerton vicinity was a hub for hawkers, and until the mid 80s, you could get lots of good local street food in this area.

The food at this new restaurant was pretty decent overall. We started with kueh pie tee ($15 for 6 pcs), served on a platter where you assemble the components yourself. The bangkwang was not as finely sliced as it could be, and while pleasant enough, the flavour of the filling was not as deep and rich as if a traditional home cook made it. If it was a book, then this would be a good abridged version of a classic.

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But the soup kambing ($15) served with slices of toasted bread was thick and rich, not too spicy, and pretty filling overall. (Would have been nice served with you tiao instead though.)

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What stood out though was the positively unlocal uni glass noodles ($28) with sea urchin and salmon roe, salted egg, with lime dressing and truffles. Served at room temperature, this was a light, refreshing dish with soft, yielding textures and a whole lot of varying salty, sweet, piquant flavours, lifted by the hint of citrus. The truffles did nothing for me though, except perhaps to interrupt rather than counterpoint the high flavour notes. But this was good. Little wonder as the Chef Ken Zheng, who heads the restaurant at The Clifford Pier, is a Japanese trained chef.

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The crispy suckling pig ($38 per portion), was lovely too. Crisp, delicately crackling skin which yields moist, tender, sweet flesh, served with a sambal chilli sauce. Finally, there was what Chef Ken called Two Generations of Rickshaw Noodles comprising ban mian with simmered pork belly and soft boiled egg with runny yolk, and an accompaniment of a thickened clear broth with vegetables and some token yellow Hokkien noodles. I rather liked Chef’s modern take on ban mian – tasty, springy noodles with soy braised pork and enriched with runny egg, done like a pasta dish. The soup on the side was simple but tasty and filling. Why such an odd combination? There’s a story behind this.

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Chef Ken’s grandfather was an itinerant hawker who stationed himself at Clifford Pier all the way up to the early ‘80s, selling a simple dish of soup noodles. “The workers and trishaw riders would come by, grab a quick meal of the noodles and push on,” he said. As a preschooler, he remembered tagging along with Grandpa and helping him wash the bowls. Now as a professional chef, he has taken the opportunity to revive his grandfather’s dish in a fitting tribute, but also complementing it with his own creation, a modern take on traditional ban mian. I thought that was pretty clever and very touching too.

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The menu is predominantly local with other dishes like kong bak bao using Iberico pork belly. But being a hotel restaurant, there are a few international options too, like kimchi fried rice, burgers and salads to cater to other tastes.

The dessert menu holds lots of wicked temptations. The Hong Kong Dai Pai Dong French Toast drizzled with condensed milk & a side of peanut butter ice cream, and Teh Tarik Ice Cream with honeycomb crunch ($9) are creative dishes which make use of very local and Asian components; while the Baba au Rum, a retro favourite, is updated with macerated berries & chantilly cream ($15). The Clifford Pier also has a supper menu too with the likes of oyster omelette and Teochew porridge.

While I do say it’s tricky to pull of the local food concept in this beautiful new restaurant, I seriously hope they succeed. Because if you think about it, would you have any other cuisine being the main focus at this historical, iconic grand old dame? I didn’t think so….

The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore,
80 Collyer Quay, Singapore 049326
Tel: (65) 6597 5266