4th December 2013.
By now, you probably might have heard of Pidgin Kitchen & Bar if you frequent the food blogosphere in Singapore. Formerly Pamplemousse, the restaurant had a face-lift and turned away from European fine dining and took a plunge into the realm of Mod-Sin, the short form for Modern Singaporean, sometimes also associated with “fusion”. The word itself sometimes evokes the memories of failed experiments and terrible marriages in the culinary world. But fortunately, Pidgin Kitchen & Bar is not one of them.
Pidgin Kitchen & Bar is located within the grounds of the historical Dempsey Hill. The place is also going through a new phase as a casual dining spot rather than the fine dining and exclusive village in the past. Dempsey Hill is just part of the larger complex known as Tanglin Barracks which dates back to the 1861 when it served as the barracks of the British garrison infantry battalion before becoming the General Headquarters of the Far East Land Forces after the war. After the British left in 1971, Tanglin Barracks was the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence and the Central Manpower Base and my tutor recalled that the military personnel stationed here seldom wear no.4 and CMPB is quite an open camp then.
For the younger generation like us, some of us might remember Tanglin Barracks as the site of the first Singapore Biennale in 2006 with its iconic tape art. I could still remember a video named "Imelda Goes to Singapore" by Brian Gothong Tan featuring the former first lady of Philippines (by an actress) singing Dahil Sa Iyo.
Back to Pidgin Kitchen & Bar, the name of the restaurant refers to a kind of simple language that develops between groups without a common language and this simple language that ties us together is food. At Pidgin Kitchen & Bar, the focus is re-interpretations of local cuisine with a different culinary approach with touch of mischief.
Food takes the stage here and the simplistic décor reflects that attitude, the design of Pidgin’s identity and branding was done by Somewhere Else, helmed by Yong. Similar to colourful re-interpretation of local cuisine of Pidgin, branding of Pidgin utilizes a variety of graphic styles with a touch of nostalgia. In short, at Pidgin it is “contemporary with tinges of nostalgia”.
Our meal at Pidgin begins with the unwrapping of a paper bag of bread, which is my first time seeing such presentation of the “bread basket”. The bread was served with a trio of condiments which include the classic olive oil and butter as well as sundried tomato & marmite pesto. There were at least 3 kinds of bread and they were really good (especially with the Bordier Butter). Bread & Butter & More (or Bread Bag) cost 7++ SGD
One of their most talked about snacks was the Lamb Meatballs, Tulang Merah Sauce, Hay’s Dairies Goat Milk Yogurt (12++ SGD). This is basically your microcosm of the sup tulang or bone soup, a local dish (fans of No Reservations would remember Anthony Bourdain enjoying this at Golden Mile Food Centre). The snack has a strong aroma and this was divine, the mutton meatball was very tender and packed full of flavours and the yoghurt complements it very well.
Pidgin has specials from time to time and one of their specials for the day was the Smoked Eel, Unagi Sauce, Orzo Pasta, Horseradish Quail Egg and Sansho Pepper (15++ SGD) which is like an interesting twist to your usual smoked salmon dishes. Smoked Salmon sometimes can be little too heavy for the palate, in this Smoked Eel dish, unagi was used with is more delicate in taste, the horseradish gives a tinge spiciness to the dish.
The Quinoa : Tomato & Pandan, Chinese Olive Vegetable, Parmesan and Almonds (13++ SGD) is quite a unique dish. Visually, it looked like your glutinous rice you find the market but tasted like really good olive fried rice. In retrospective, I quite enjoyed the Quinoa’s savouriness.
Foie Gras, Rojak Sauce, Sarawak Pineapple, Jicama, Hazelnut and Almonds (28++ SGD) is an example of how the chef behind Pidgin replaces a classic Foie Gras dish with local flavours, here the combination of rojak sauce and sarawak pineapple takes the place of your fruit compote pairing. It was a okay dish for me, I felt that the sweet rojak sauce has overwhelmed the other elements in this dish including the foie gras.
Finally to the mains, I got to try two much raved about dishes. First, there is the Bak Kwa Mac & Cheese, Penne, Pork Belly Bak Kwa, Gruyere & Cheddar and Truffle Oil (20++ SGD) which Liang Wei claimed to be one of the “best bak kwa he ever had” which I agree. Overall, it is quite a heavy cheesy dish, so you might want to share it with your friends.
The main that I enjoyed more was the Lobster Wonton Capellini, Lobster Oil, Chorizo Iberico, Fried Lobster Wonton, Pickled Green Chillies (26+ SGD). A decadent take of the wanton mee, this is one upgrade that I am willing to pay for. The capellini was perfectly cooked and came dressed with fragrant lobster oil. However, if you come with mindset of eating a wanton mee, you might not be able to enjoy this dish as much as it the texture of the capellini is slightly different from your usual wanton noodles.
Lastly, there are the desserts. We had the Kaya Bread and Butter Pudding (15++ SGD) which was a bit disappointing as it failed to present an essential component of the kaya toast which this dessert seemed to be aiming for. I think it’s the lack of the butter or a crispy edge, and the pairing of hojicha ice cream puts makes it a conflicting dessert.
The Bandung Panna Cotta, Rose Syrup, Sesame Crunch and Rhubarb (12++ SGD) on the other hand, was really good. This really brings back good memories I had with the pink beverage.
However, it was the “Milo Dinosaur” Version 2.1, 72% Dark Chocolate Flourless Cake, Milo Ice Cream, Milo Streusel, Dulce de Leche (15++ SGD) that really wraps the whole meal up on a high note. The rich, decadent, milo-chocolate dessert really sends a wave of nostalgia, evoking the good memories I had with milo as a kid when the milo truck arrives or enjoying a thick, warm cup of milo on a cold rainy day outfield during my NS Days.
My experience with Pidgin had been good overall, there are some very strong dishes that I wish I could come back for in the future and knowing that the chef is still doing his magic with more dishes makes it even more attractive to come back some day for some new creations. The dishes here tease and prob your comfort zone towards local food but without going way overboard (in the food and in the prices). You no need to spend like 200 SGD a meal to get a taste of Mod-Sin (and one on the right track) at Pidgin Kitchen and Bar. If the weather is good, it should nice exploring the historical grounds too.
Thank You Jael from Food News for the invitation.
7 Dempsey Road 01-04
Anywhere Other Than Here & Now