Formerly of The Scarlet Hotel’s restaurant Desire, chef Vincent Teng has set up in a shophouse on Tras Street. A faint wail of karaoke can be overheard on the way in, and the low-key but stylish storefront announces this distinctive addition to the neighbourhood. The bar area, serving up a respectable selection of mojitos, opens up into a slightly larger dining room, splashed with the natural light that filters in through the glass panels above.
The unusual combo of paintings in the main room – a Renoir-esque French street scene and an oil of an old Chinese man getting his ponytail lopped off – could reflect the restaurant’s European cuisine with Asian accents, as was first suggested by our waiter. Or the art selection could be (as was later revealed) the result of generous, perhaps haphazard donations. Paintings aside, the decor is dominated by clean, modern lines, creating a mood that’s relaxed yet simple and chic.
The menu also made an excellent impression. Admittedly I’m a sucker for shellfish, so a first page filled entirely with oyster options is guaranteed to woo me – and also stymie my ability to pick just one (oh, shucks!). From au naturel, to cucumber- and mint granita-topped, to ponzu dressing and salmon roe-slathered, to rich hollandaise-baked, the succulent little bivalves did not disappoint. They were emphatically fresh and perfectly paired, at the thoughtful suggestion of our skilled waiter, with a glass of the slightly sparkling, sweet, but not cloying Moscato d’Asti.
The starters continued to appeal with the it’s-not-just-for-breakfast-anymore eggs Benedict. The softly poached egg is meant to be broken at the table and tossed with smoky grilled portobello mushrooms, fresh spinach leaves and sun-dried tomatoes. Fragrant with truffle oil, this is a rich salad that becomes almost buttery as the spinach is coated with yolk and hollandaise.
Another decadent option, a toasted brioche bun, soaks up the delectable juices of seared foie gras – playfully served, burger-style – while the tangy sweetness of sliced mango and berries compote cut through the rich flavours.
The best mains had split personalities, offering up meat cooked in contrasting ways. Some may call it schizophrenia, but me, myself and I liked the variety. The duo of sous vide pork belly featured one braised in balsamic, the other roasted and topped with crackling, all served with a sautéed apple mustard miso.
The duck breast and confit of leg took a similar dual texture – one tender, one crispy – approach. The breast was smoked and just barely seared (warning: this may be too rare for the less carnivorous), while the leg had an addictive crunch.
While deftly cooked to order and prettily plated, the grilled beef châteaubriand and lamb cutlets had less of a ‘wow’ factor. The lamb was a tad fatty, and neither could boast any overly original elements. However, after two pleasurable dining experiences, as I sat finishing my dessert – dipping dragon fruit, plums, marshmallows and cookies in a thick chocolate fondue – I knew there were still many things on the menu that should be tried. Laura Dozier