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Restaurant review: Eating out in Dempsey Hill, Singapore

We salute the genius who first thought of turning the rundown British colonial army barracks at Dempsey into a lifestyle and dining hub. This month we tried Don Quijote, The Muthu’s Flavors, Pamplemousse Bistro + Bar, The Pantry, CM-PB and Porcelain Contemporary Chinese Restaurant and these were our thoughts.

Don Quijote                        

7 Dempsey Road #01-02

+65 6476 2811

Between the four of us, we polish off so many plates of tapas at Don Quijote that I lose count after the seventh. Tapas is what this newcomer to the dazzling Dempsey restaurant scene does best, the ideal food to enjoy with a group of girlfriends on a casual night out.

Having left husbands and children to their own devices and feeling completely unencumbered, we get the night started with sangria – red, white and sparkling ($13.50) – and a mixed platter of ham, sausages and cheese ($36). Don Quijote has an extensive wine list with 97 Spanish reds and 30 whiskies, so there is something to suit all tastes.

The conversation flows and so do the hot tapas. Tortilla Espanola ($11) is a perfect combination of the age-old Spanish favourite of eggs and potato, the barbecued prawns in garlic sauce ($15) are fresh and tasty and we all enjoy the rich meatballs in tomato-oregano sauce ($8).

If you want paella, order it early, as it takes around an hour, and then tuck into more tapas. The shrimp rolled in eggplant ($10) and oven-baked scallops with bacon ($19) are both sumptuous, and everyone agrees the barbecued chorizo sausage ($10) with its smoky paprika flavour is a must-try.

Luckily, we have ordered only a medium paella de carne ($45) as we’ve indulged in so many tapas that we only need a small helping of the chicken and chorizo topped, saffron flavoured rice. Despite having had to not only loosen but actually remove our belts, we can’t resist the bomba de chocolate ($19). A rich cake made from Spanish chocolate and with a molten centre, it’s served with vanilla ice-cream and is the perfect finale.

The Muthu’s Flavors
7 Dempsey Road #01-01
+65 6474 5128

This is the sort of place you’d be just as happy dining in a twosome as you would in a big group. It’s the prettier and much younger sister of the popular Muthu’s Curry on Race Course Road; the food shares the same genetic attention to flavour, but is served in more comfortable and stylish surroundings.

My mum (a spice connoisseur) and I (who like curries mild at best) went for the pappadam bruschetta ($5.50) and fried vendaikai (okra; $7,90) to start. Both were simultaneously spicy and mild enough to satisfy our contrary palates, the vendaikai being so moreish there was a bit of a fight for the last bite – I let Mum win!

Like its older sibling, Muthu’s star attraction is the fish head curry ($25), which we wolfed down, eyes and all! We also shared the succulent lamb rack ananas ($22.90). The grilled pineapple offered a refreshingly sweet contrast to the rich and spicy ribs. This all went down nicely with a basket of assorted naan ($10.90). You can pick three of your favourite types; we went for Kashmiri, Kurmi and Peshawari – which was such a treat, we’d come back just for that.

Pamplemousse Bistro + Bar
7 Dempsey Road #01-04
+65 6475 0080

It’s raining cats and dogs, and I’m umbrella-less as I pull up to Dempsey 6 and 7 (sorry, “6ix and 7even”). The ten seconds between taxi and restaurant door is all I need to get drenched.

Fortunately, the restaurant is Pamplemousse, a European-style bistro whose subtle lighting and jazz soundtrack are as warming as a log fire. Warming, too, is the New Zealand pinot noir (Ata Rangi Crimson 2008, $16) I’m soon clutching.

Adrian and Cleo are the Singaporean husband-and-wife team behind Pamplemousse (it’s French for grapefruit). “We love the stories that good food can tell,” they say. My choice of main, duck confit (part of a six-course Chef’s Menu, $98), tells the story of their marriage: the deliciously crispy duck comes with red cabbage – a common pairing in Prague, where Adrian proposed – and lychees, inspired by a pre-wedding holiday in Thailand; the pair honeymooned in southwest France, where the dish was born.

I forget to ask the story behind the restaurant’s signature pasta, though it must be very interesting since the dish is weird and wonderful: a scroll of delicate tagliolini is served in a crustacean bisque, and topped with sea urchins, crispy pork bits and chives.

We finish with Toast & Milo – fancier than it sounds, with brioche, caramelised bananas, Nutella “soil” and more, and perfect with the rain continuing to belt down.

The weather, by the way, hasn’t put the punters off. Pamplemousse is almost full, and it’s only Tuesday. Easy to see why, with food like this. (Adrian’s a graduate of prestigious culinary school Le Cordon Bleu, we discover.)

The Pantry
75E Loewen Road
+65 6474 0441
thepantrycookeryschool.com

Picture a bustling famers’ market selling fresh produce, a posse of ten-year-old girls feverishly excited after a cooking lesson, hungry people looking for spare seats, waiters busily delivering food – and it’s raining cats and dogs. Busy, noisy and wet, but we’re safely undercover on the verandah of Jane Glascow’s The Pantry.

My meat-loving children opt for a lamb sausage bap ($14) and a Pantry burger ($12), both cooked on the barbecue in front of us. The children gobble mouthfuls in between trips to the swing and trampoline, giving me time to savour my salmon en croute ($17), layers of sweet pink salmon, spinach and cream cheese wrapped in pastry. I opt for the mesclun side salad that’s included, saving room for the sweet things that beckon from the ordering counter.

Other diners are tucking into the all-day breakfast and the bacon smell is very tempting. I tell Jane I can’t imagine how this steady stream of food is all produced in the tiny kitchen, but she laughs and says she somehow manages not only the café but a cookery school and a thriving take-away and hamper business. The dozens of Christmas cakes she made in August have been drizzled with brandy, the old-fashioned way.

The children can’t finish their enormous meals and probably have indigestion from all the activity, but still manage to polish off a melting moment and a cupcake ($5). I try the pistachio and cranberry cake ($5) with a hot chocolate ($5.50), well worth dodging the rain for.

Porcelain Contemporary Chinese Restaurant
7 Dempsey Road #01-03
+65 6475 1811

Arriving at a fancy restaurant with soggy feet – courtesy of a monsoon storm – may not be the ideal start, but warm wait-staff whisk me to a table and make me feel right at home.

I’m having the set meal ($48) instead of ordering à la carte. The meal starts with a trio of appetisers; then, as if Chef Chia has anticipated the monsoon, he presents an exceedingly comforting chicken broth. Following that, a fillet of pan-seared cod befriends a Japanese marinade, while XO sauce tops a pristine white scallop.

Next comes a Mongolian pork chop. This dish, synonymous with bad Chinese takeaway, is every bit as delicious as takeaway isn’t. Typically of a Chinese meal, where carbohydrates are served at the end, lightly spiced rice vermicelli with a (peeled!) crab claw is a welcome change to the usual fried noodles.

Asian dessert, in my opinion, often seems like an afterthought. But Porcelain’s sour plum pudding bathed in vanilla custard reminds me of English trifle; I also enjoy the velvety almond tea, gently warmed in a coconut shell ($8).

Only at the end of the meal do I find out that I’ve been a fan of Chef Chia for a while, frequenting restaurants he previously headed, including Dragon Phoenix. Accentuated by traditional oriental décor, this is Cantonese cuisine done with heart.

CM-PB

7 Dempsey Road #01-05 Dempsey Road

+65 6475 0105

Calling all ex-clubbers, trendy business types and families – yes, I do mean Mum, Dad and the kids. There’s a new mode in Dempsey and its called Cultural Melting-pot Bar and Restaurant, or CM–PB.

Just as the name suggests, it’s a hotchpotch of European food and drinks with bursts of Asian influence. At the end of Block 7, laid-back CM–PB relies on a glowing aura of light to attract post-work drinkers at night, and spacious outdoor tables to draw families for all-day breakfasts.

I met another media type there after the nine to five and we slumped down at an outside table to enjoy the bar’s Balearic vibe. Our chummy waitress Lani rattled through the popular dishes and suggested we try a couple of mojitos: one made with lychee liqueur, the other accented with ginger (both $14). They went down far too quickly and we were onto seconds before we’d even ordered food.

The menu offers hearty main courses with burgers, pizza and fish dishes, and lighter sharing options for those coming just for drinks. There’s also a special section of local dishes to try.

We opted to share a refreshing CM–PB salad ($16) with prawns and salmon to start, which was more than enough for two. I went on to the mussels ($24) in a white wine sauce, which deliciously reminded me of lazy UK Sundays picking at moules frites. My friend had a half-and-half pizza ($26), topped with Wagyu beef on one side and roasted duck on the other. It came on a thin crust that’s ever so slightly sweet, so you can eat the whole thing without it feeling too stodgy.

For more helpful tips head to our living in Singapore section.

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