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Restaurant review: Barracks at Dempsey in Singapore

8D Dempsey Road, #01-01 to 06
Call +65 6475 7787

Considering the obsession with food in this city, it’s surprising how often you’ll encounter a service person in a restaurant with not the faintest clue about ingredients.

“Where does the beef come from?” you’ll ask, and from the terrified look on the waiter’s face, you know he’s thinking: “A cow?”
This is not a problem at Barracks, a shabby-chic café-restaurant at the back-end of Dempsey Hill (part of the House complex). During a recent dinner there, I had a brief chat with an employee who insisted on giving me the contact details for a wholesale supplier of Wagyu beef – she’d recently bought her own personal stash of the stuff (three kilos for around $500). Even I got lost as she started describing the differences between Wagyu grades 9 and 10, and I’m someone who could talk about food forever.

This passion for eating extends to the menu, where the chef’s specials are marked with a big red heart.

Perhaps it was my unromantic streak coming out, but I opted for a “heartless” appetiser. Good choice, too. The Ahi Taki salad ($20) featured generous cubes of smoky seared tuna in a big bundle of leaves, with raisins, pistachios and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Barracks’ signature Skinny Pizzas ($18-$25) are filled with ingredients that would make a Neapolitan baker shake an angry fist: curried lamb and lentils, chili con carne, and something called The English Breakfast (yes, on a pizza). I had the least Italian of the lot, Vietnamese coconut poached chicken. Odd but rewarding.

The décor at Barracks is mix-and-match retro. It’s almost as if each member of staff was told to buy three items at a garage sale and bring them in. The serving plates look like antiques, too – the kind of crockery that Jamie Oliver loves heaping a fresh salad onto. My wild mushroom risotto ($24) arrived on a plate that I’m sure my Nana once owned. The risotto was a highlight, by the way, prepared with a veal jus. It’s available in a vegetarian option, too – in fact, gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian dishes are helpfully marked throughout the menu.

Barracks has earned a reputation for its “sliders” ($22), a pair of mini-burgers to which you can add a variety of toppings: blue cheese and bacon; truffled aioli; sautéed mushrooms and onions, and so on. Very good, though be aware of the chef’s literal interpretation of sweet potato fries (they’re sugar-coated!).

Elsewhere you’ll find lobster linguine, Moroccan spiced baby chicken, red snapper with clams and chorizo, and a hefty dessert menu of cakes, slices and puddings. The wine menu is informative with loads of well-priced booze by the glass, while the cocktails, mocktails and juices feature a novel twist or two.

Despite the military overtones – Barracks was a barracks in a former life, after all, and the privileged dining programme allows you to acquire Sergeant or Colonel status – this is a laidback place. There’s even a 15-minute mobile massage available as an appetiser, which is a great idea, though I’m wondering which part of it you can eat.