Singapore’s ever growing stable of hip restaurants all seem to follow a predictable formula: a pre-war shophouse in a hip neighbourhood, an on-trend menu that reads like a grocery list, a small range of informed and potent cocktails, a young but competent chef putting his spin on food, and wait staff dressed in black, some with a handy wisecrack of two.
Most of these places will not disappoint — you’ll have a pretty good meal there, have some gastronomic surprises tossed your way, and for that time, feel you’re really with it. You’ll likely feel the pinch of the bill later, but this is Singapore so you’ve anticipated that and you’re becoming numb to it anyway.
In two weeks’ time, you may have forgotten what you ate there while you hunt for the next happening place to haunt, but not before you’ve posted pictures of your dinner on Instagram. It’s not because the food or experience was bad. Just that Singapore’s food scene is overflowing with really good restaurants, and it’s increasingly tough for restaurant to stand out head and shoulders above the considerable competition.
Humpback is one such restaurant. It is a good restaurant, like many of the others in Singapore, but by and large it is formulaic. However I do remember two things distinctly. It’s big on oysters which sell for low as $2 a piece on Monday evenings – which means reservations are essential on Mondays — and the grilled cabbage with herby cheese and quinoa ($10) is a touch of genius, and infinitely more tasty than it sounds.
The latest restaurant by the people behind Jigger & Pony and Sugarhall, Humpback’s big attraction is its steady stream of fresh briny oysters harvested from the world’s oceans. Indeed, the day to enjoy is Mondays when it goes at an affordable $2 per piece, which packs in oyster lovers. But if, like me, you aren’t a fan, there’s enough on the menu to tantalise. The dishes by Executive Chef Polo Seah are clever, modern concoctions that intrigue and surprise with its very original combination of flavours. Most were hits to me, except for the clam dip with ritz crackers. Sorry that just didn’t fly with me.
Get the intriguing kale ($14) – a mix of fresh and dehydrated kale, with creamy buttermilk dressing and a sprinkling of pecan nuts and a juicy contrast of pear slivers. The humble cabbage ($10) turned out the star of the dinner — elevated to a hip and intriguing dish. First brined, baked, then grilled, it was savoury, a little nutty, with crispy quinoa, herbed cheese and chilli oil. A touch of genius indeed with its unpredictable combination of ingredients that worked excellently together.
Loved the bigeye tuna with avocado and a refreshing, intense, uplifting cucumber granita, and the snow crab with orzo, squash and parmigiano ($23) for all its sweet, comforting flavours and textures. The mangalica pork was the most classic in taste, with chestnuts, cauliflower and a tangy touch of cranberry.
The menu changes pretty frequently but these dishes give an idea of what to expect from Chef Seah. My bet though is that the cabbage is still available.
Drinks aren’t cheap here, starting from $16 a glass. But since the pedigree of Humpback is Jigger & Pony, one of the best bars in Singapore, I’d put my money on the cocktails instead. You can expect them to mirror the high quality of J&P. I started with the light and fruity jasmine and pear G&T, then ended with the heady, spirit forward drunken monkey (scotch, chartreuse and curacao). Nice.
Good to know: Happy hour 5-7pm daily, where oysters range from $2-$3 each. Those happy hour prices stretch through all Monday night though.
18/20 Bukit Pasoh Road,
Tel: 6750 4461