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Restaurant review: Keystone, Sque Rotisserie & Alehouse, Eco Gourmet Café, Vineyard and Martin No. 38

 

Keystone Restaurant    

11 and 12 Stanley Street

6221 0046 | www.keystonerestaurant.com.sg

Before most of Singapore begins to swat at their collective snooze buttons, I try to squeeze in an early morning jog through Chinatown. It’s the best time of day for outdoor exercise; plus I can patrol the area for exciting new restaurants and shops in silence. Some days, I hit the jackpot – like the newly opened Keystone Restaurant.

Occupying two renovated shophouses on charming Stanley Street, Keystone is perfectly positioned for Singapore’s foodie folks and the power suits of the CBD. The food is European with “a progressive interpretation”; techniques such as sous-vide cooking, dehydration and spherification are explored. 

For example, I’ve had jamón ibérico , but never like this (pictured here) – slivers of ham wrapped around golden bites of creamy reblochon with burnt figs and a side of passionfruit sorbet ($28). Fabulous.

Backed by a creamy Parmesan polenta, the 149º Blackmore Wagyu brisket ($42), cooked sous-vide for 36 hours, was both tender and robust. A tomato gum cleansed the palate for the next dish – line-caught wild monkfish ($44) on a split langoustine and a deliciously rich crustacean bisque.

Leave room for dessert. The mango and apricot clafoutis ($15), served with a touch of sudachi sorbet, was a standout. Yet, it is hard to see the words Nutella bar on the menu and not jump. The heavy aroma of toffee-covered banana enhances this dish of chocolate pearls and layered Valrhona chocolate mousse ($16).

Backed by a talented bartender and an impressive wine list, Keystone’s ambience is intimate and the service is superb. It may expand both your palate and your culinary vocabulary.  

Sque Rotisserie & Alehouse

6 Eu Tong Sen Street, #01-70 The Central

6222 1887 | www.sque.com.sg

Pronounced “skew”, as in skewer, Sque is the latest offering from the Emmanuel Stroobant Group, which includes St Pierre’s, Brussels Sprout et al.

There’s something irresistible about a waterfront, and this place has an expansive 40 metres of it directly opposite the plastic lily-pad structures on Clarke Quay. At the bar, barman Din serves up a good range of beers, both bottled and on tap. I ordered Guinness draft, but was green with beer envy when I tried Roy’s Schneider Weisse Tap 7 (half a pint $11; pint $15.50).

We gobbled up the excellent and generous serving of salt and pepper prawns ($18); both this and the goujonette of crispy lemon sole ($20) are substantial sharing portions. Baby grilled octopus ($18) came with a nice hint of fresh chilli padi; and the snails ($18) were sublimely paired with garlicky mushrooms.

Our beef rib ($38) from the rotisserie menu had been slow-cooked to sticky, fork-tender perfection and fell off the bone. I can also recommend the authentic pork Portuguese ($26): essentially a tomatoey clam casserole with diced Korobuta pork, it’s pungent with chorizo and olive oil; a chunk of bread would be great to mop it all up with.

When did you last eat rhubarb? That’s what was in the yummy crumble du jour ($13) with vanilla ice cream; and the gula malaka-topped vanilla crème brulée ($13) was just as good.

A week later, I was back at Sque with my girlfriend Alix for a marathon four-hour gabfest. I can now also recommend the mezze platter ($20); and our shared pork knuckle ($31), though disappointingly lacking any crackling, was tasty and tender.

I’ve got a bit of a thing for this place at the moment, I must admit.

L’Angolo

32 Maxwell Road, #01-03 Maxwell Chambers

6224 0978 | www.langolo.com.sg

L’Angolo, meaning “the corner” in Italian, is an apt name for this Italian restaurant in the corner of Maxwell Chambers (the old Custom House).

Executive chef Giuliano Dacasto’s menu is most definitely contemporary, yet still very Italian. Fresh ingredients are flown in weekly from all over Italy, and he adds daily specials to the menu to include seasonal ingredients. The extensive wine list is mostly Italian, and offers several wines by the glass or half-bottle.

Maitre d’ and sommelier Michele Carbotti convinces me that a Piedmont chardonnay would perfectly complement the richness of my warm Parmesan flan with summer truffles and green asparagus ($26) and the freshness of my husband’s sweet capsicum with swimmer crab and mint zucchini ($24), and he’s right. Both dishes are artfully presented with swirls and blobs of sauces and taste as good as they look.

The Parma ham ravioli with buffalo mozzarella cream and sweet peas ($27) and tagliatelle with chanterelle mushrooms and summer truffle ($30) both use fresh pasta made daily in the restaurant. The sweet peas and mozzarella cream balance the saltiness of the Parma ham, while the chanterelles and shaved truffle add richness to the tagliatelle.

We share a melt-in-your-mouth slow-cooked beef cheek in Amarone red wine ($38) served with buttery mashed potatoes. This dish is best accompanied with a full-bodied red wine, like a primitivo from Manduria Sud.

My molten lava chocolate soufflé with cherry gelato ($14) is divine; the molten centre oozes out as I cut into it. Hubby, a lemon tart aficionado, is very pleased with his lemon tart with strawberry gelé and pistachio cream ($14). The tart is shaped like a boat covered with a blanket of strawberry gel and floats on a green pistachio sea.

Although spacious, the restaurant feels homely, thanks to the décor and the friendly staff. The tables are well spaced, perfect for a romantic dinner or a business lunch.

Vineyard @ Hort Park

33 Hyderabad Road, #02-02 Hort Park

Newly opened Vineyard @ Hort Park serves Italian, French and Thai cuisine all under one roof: not a strategy that generally inspires me with confidence.

The setting is peaceful; all wooden floors and glass walls keeping back the encroaching greenery and emanating a feeling of space and warmth. There’s also a small veranda and a separate outdoor drinks stretch.

Chefs for each of the three cuisines have been kidnapped from other Creative Eateries’ restaurants; the Thai chef hailing from Patara, which may explain why the Asian dishes went down better than the Western fare we tried.     

Elusive in Singapore, the presence of Bulmers cider ($14) on the menu created a bit of excitement; it was the perfect accompaniment to our Asian starters. Lemongrass prawn cakes ($12) were tasty, but the accompanying green papaya salad lacked the necessary sweet-sour-spicy kick; and the Vietnamese fresh spring rolls ($12) were light and flavourful.

The mains menu is a hodgepodge of curries, fish and meat dishes, pastas and pizzas – the wild mushroom, Australian aged brie and smoked bacon pizza ($20) caught my eye, however. We settled for the crispy Kurobuta pork belly ($28), which came with delicious crackling but lacked overall flavour and tenderness. The Massaman beef curry ($14) was more flavourful, but somewhat on the tough side.

Sticky date pudding with butterscotch ($12) was not bad, but not nearly sticky or saucy enough. And then it happened… the completely unexpected star of the night – warm lemon lava cake ($12) – waltzed in and swept us off our feet. Beautifully presented with a crispy sesame tuile, it was not too sweet and not too tart and perfectly balanced with a dollop of cream and fresh raspberries.

Eco Gourmet Café

30 Labrador Villa Road

6479 8885

The setting is stunning: a spacious timber deck looking into jungle, roofed but with open sides, and cooled by an evening breeze and humming ceiling fans. It’s like a stylish treehouse.            

Owner Federico Asaro is Italian, we’re told, but grew up in Malaysia and Singapore; the Relais & Chateaux Villa Samadhi in Kuala Lumpur is part of his Samadhi Retreats. The wood-and-bamboo furniture is handcrafted by an Orang Asli community in Malaysia, and I love the glow from the dozens of pendant lamps: reminiscent of temple bells, they’re from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

On to the food. My tomato soup ($14) comes with a couple of tender scallops and just-charred tiger prawns; Roy’s mushroom soup topped with Alba truffle oil ($13) is very nice, he says. Unusually for us, we have to call for salt; none at all has been used.

Similarly, our braised lamb shanks ($39) on root vegetables and mash, seemed to have been cooked sans wine, herbs or salt, and are little too solid due to reheating. The seared Korobuta pork sounds good, as do two Wagyu beef options, but none of them is available – disappointing, this early on a Friday night.

Happily, we finish on a high note: my lychees steeped in red wine ($16) come on a base of surprisingly Christmassy mixed fruit dice, generously doused with cognac, the whole topped with lime sorbet – scrumptious! Roy’s coconut gelato with fresh mango and red wine jelly ($12) is good, too.

Three of the four wines available by the glass ($12 and $13) are mediocre; rather pick a name you recognise from the wine list. Alternatively, there’s an imaginative array of cocktails to try, plus interesting aperitifs and digestives.

With such a lovely ambience, we hope the few glitches we experienced will be sorted out – especially as the owner plans to open a fine dining restaurant just down the road from here.

Martin No. 38 

38 Martin Road

Graze – 6509 1680 (closed)

Kha – 6476 9000

Provisions – 6509 1678 (closed)

As the final touches are applied to Martin No. 38, Robertson Quay’s newest luxury residential development, the first floor is already open for business. You may recognise a few of the new tenants – Kha (formerly in Hort Park) and a second location for the Rochester Park favourite, Graze; however, the corner-store-inspired Provisions is brand new.

Graze: Casual Australian fare – we’re talking Aussie veggies, Pacific oysters ($4 each) and a grain-fed Angus rib for two ($128) – is served in a country urban atmosphere. Communal tables and outdoor seating are complemented by private work stations, where you can plug in to check your email or play a quick round of checkers before dinner.
 
Kha: Upscale, authentic Thai served in an industrial-chic yet intimate interior. Starters here are a must; the grilled, red-curry-rubbed Wagyu beef ($29)and the wok-fried tiger prawns ($30) are game-changers. Like spice? The yam tang ($17), a poached chicken and pomegranate salad, sounds innocuous but packs a serious punch. And don’t miss Papa Adum’s famous crispy tofu ($14); it’s named after the chef’s dad, who created it.
 
Provisions: A retro throwback, this epicureans’ store is stocked with homemade spice blends, olive oil, gourmet coffee and tea, fresh produce and wine. Snacks range from hummus ($6) to goose foie gras ($68). And, if you want to try your hand at preparing your favourite dish from Graze or Kha, simply ask; they’ll supply the ingredients for you to take home.

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