Sorrel didn’t last long. Opened to some fan fare last year, it has since closed and Cheek by Jowl fills its space, bringing a touch of Aussie-eclecticism into the Telok Ayer enclave.
Opened barely a month ago, it is already attracting a regular flow of customers filling up the somewhat narrow shophouse it occupies, diagonally opposite the historic Nagore Durga shrine. Context first: this restaurant by the Unlisted Collection is helmed by Australian chef Rishi Naleendra, whose cuisine is quirky and playful yet relatively fine, honed over a career working in illustrious kitchens like Taxi Dining Room in Melbourne, Tetsuya’s in Sydney and Yellow by Brent Savage. The restaurant manager is his wife, Manuela Toniolo, a welcoming presence. If you think you’d find culinary traces of Rishi’s native Sri Lanka in the cooking here, you’d be mistaken. It is all Aussie. He cooks from a sparkling open kitchen behind the counter, a good place for lone diners to eat.
The menu here is about sharing plates and grazing. In Singapore, this often means inflated prices, as sharing plates are priced almost as high as conventional main courses but offer only about two-thirds the portion. So go dutch or get Cheek by Jowl’s well-priced set lunch menu of $38++ for three courses.
I found many gems on the restaurant’s a la carte menu. I loved the oysters on tomato granita — with a briny fresh supple oyster ($5 per piece) lifted by the bright cold sensation of the tomato ice. The cured ocean trout was a sweet, soft delectable slice, accompanied by the light creaminess of whipped buttermilk subtly infused with citrusy yuzu and the tender, clean crunch of cucumber. Very nice indeed, even if a little predictable. Then came a salt baked beetroot ($17), beautifully presented, with goat’s cheese curd, pickled raisins and a touch of horseradish. The combination of earthy, grassy, sweet and creamy was delightful and clever — and what would an Aussie restaurant be without a beetroot offering?
This already gives a pretty good idea of Rishi’s cooking — light hearted, light flavours, with supporting components that are just as arduous to prepare as the main ingredient, reflecting an attention to detail where every component is important. A good example lay in my crisp, pan-fried barramundi ($32) whose juicy flesh and sweet taste is heightened by a complex charred scallion sauce bursting with a sweetish umami depth of flavour. This sat on a bed of charred onion mash and a sprinkling of burnt lemon powder.
My absolute favourite though was the rather odd dish of caramelised five-spice duck confit served with a peppery coriander-sprinkled salad, sweetly pickled cucumbers and a few slices of crisp, fluffy waffles. It’s like an Asian reinterpretation of the New York offering of fried chicken with waffles. Does that sound schizophrenic? Nevermind – it was delicious. I will forgive the slightly stringy duck as its rich caramelised glaze paired beautifully with the meat and the waffles. If you’re still peckish, have the padron peppers ($9), and the hasselback potatoes ($10).
Finally the black olive cake ($15), while sounding unappetising, was absolutely divine as a dessert — slightly meaty but with a soft give, just sweet enough with a more substantial flavour. I enjoyed it with the strawberry ice cream, and whipped yoghurt – a nice combination even though put together, it looked completely mismatched.
Apart from Champagne, all the wines here are from Australia or New Zealand. Priced from $68 a bottle, you do have a good selection of rather unusual bottles like Ministry of Clouds Riesling from the Clare Valley ($85) and Dal Zotto Sangiovese from King Valley Australia ($98). They offer only three cocktails created by Proof & Company (the whizzes behind 28HongKong Street, etc) including a pretty potent Wattleseed Negroni ($19).
21 Boon Tat Street
Tel: +65 6221 1911