The Most Underrated Restaurants In Town
In a city where new restaurants seem to open every week, the hottest restaurants are usually the latest ones. But come back a year after their feted openings and they may not always hold the fickle city’s favour. I, for one, am guilty of choosing the hottest new restaurant whenever my friends and I talk about where to eat. So much so that it’s hard to find time to revisit old favourites.
It’s no surprise, then, that restaurants often have the lifespan of a gnat in this food-obsessed city. Those that survive the brutal two-year mark (the average tenure of their leases) hold a certain badge of honour. Those that have lived long and prospered are special indeed. These are some of my favourites:
What started out as a tapas and sake bar in 2009 has evolved into an elegant shudo establishment — that is, a restaurant that serves food to pair with sake. Affable chef Pepe Moncayo, a Santi Santamaria alum, anoints his omakase menu of Spanish dishes with notable Japanese touches to yield some truly unique and, more importantly, delicious cuisine. Particularly memorable for me was a dish of salted cod maw, which Moncayo batters and fries then serves with a satiny cream of Jerusalem artichoke and black trumpet mushrooms. The menu changes constantly and features the option of sake pairings designed by co-owner and sake distributor Derrick Lim. There’s also a three-course dessert omakase that’s perfect for times when you want quality desserts after dinner.
This temple to the Florentine steak recently moved one shophouse down and is more gorgeous than ever. Tricked out in dark wood and plush shades of plum, the restaurant continues to dish out some of the best steaks in town, made from organic grain-finished F1 wagyu raised in Australia’s King and Kiewa Valleys. The kitchen grills the warmly flavoured meat so that it comes to the table with a lovely, smoky char that gives way to buttery, dusky pink flesh. The side dishes are just as divine, especially the charred bagna cauda-flavoured cauliflower and creamed spinach that is lightly sautéed in a lick of spinach puree.
Irish chef Andrew Walsh’s 40-seat restaurant is as whitewashed on the outside as it is dark within. In this stylish reclaimed shophouse, he serves seasonal fare that draws from his Irish background and experience in stellar kitchens in New York, London and Dubai. The result is strikingly unexpected pairings that set his food apart. His menus might feature morsels of raw and cooked venison brightened with beetroot and berries, or light-as-air chicken liver parfait served with a kale chip and sweet corn croquette that bursts in mouth with the vegetable’s sweet puree. The good-natured Walsh often walks the dishes to guests straight from his pass at Cure’s open kitchen, fostering a personal relationship with his loyal cabal of regulars.
This grande dame of Indian restaurants started life in 1971 at the now-defunct Imperial Hotel. Since then, it has gone on to win numerous accolades and become the restaurant of choice for dignitaries and heads of state. What’s more impressive is it has done all this quietly, with barely a publicity campaign. This classy quietude is reflected in the restaurant’s plush décor and exquisite fare, too. There is knowing restraint in dishes like clove-smoked aubergine tossed with fragrant ginger and smoked tomatoes, or fluffy kulcha (bread) stuffed with French blue cheese and kissed with a drizzle of truffle oil. The magnificent dining room gives guests plenty of space between tables so conversations remain private. For the best value, come for the lunch buffet.
Ola Cocina Del Mar
Another Santi Santamaria alum, chef Daniel Chavez, celebrates the cuisine of Spain’s Basque region with local produce at this warmly appointed spot. You’ll need to be patient when ordering the restaurant’s signature paella with Spanish octopus and pork sausage, and the black ink fideua with calamari, smoked paprika and piquilo aioli. But the reward for all that waiting is reaped in plump grains of rice and noodles saturated with the deep flavour of the seafood broth they are stewed in. To make the 20- to 25-minute wait bearable, nibble on tasty, elegant tapas such as Hokkaido scallop carpaccio with cherry tomatoes, toasted almonds, green peppers and lime vinaigrette, or mixed seafood cooked on the plancha and served with a sherry vinegar dressing and salmon roe.