Never in my wildest dreams, 20 years ago, would I ever imagine that dowdy little Boon Tat Street would one day be gentrified, and actually host a Modern-Australian restaurant the likes of Cheek by Jowl, run by the husband-and-wife team of Rishi Naleendra (Sri Lankan-born, talented & driven chef) and Manuela Toniolo who manages the front of house.
Cheek by Jowl offers a very flexible menu, with options for 2 ,3 or 5 courses, or an omakase menu where you leave it all to the chef. We opted for the “omakase” and left it to Chef Rishi to devise our dinner spread. What he gave us:
HASSELBACK POTATOES | CHIVES | SOUR CREAM - as far as first impressions go, not too promising as the dish reminded me of baked potatoes slathered with sour cream & sprinkled with chopped scallions. Except that the one we got here is shrunken to Lilliputian dmensions.
CHICKEN LIVER PARFAIT | FIG JAM - very tasty. I love the earthy-irony flavour of the chicken liver filling, and the fig jam provides a nice sweet-sour contrast.
OYSTER | SMOKED TOMATO GRANITA - run-of-the-mill fresh oysters with flavoured iced topping.
SMOKED SWORDFISH | GRAPES | MOUNTAIN CAVIAR | KOHLRABI JUICE - another dish which seemed pretty average by Michelin standards. I’ve had food in Kuala Lumpur’s Enfin by James Won and DC Restaurant by Darren Chin where the effort and finesse put into their dishes were several levels above this one.
4a. KOHLRABI JUICE being poured tableside.
VENISON | FERMENTED PLUM | ZUCCHINI | WASABI
ROASTED QUAIL | CHESTNUT | MUSHROOM | MINT
CHEESE BREAD. Essentially Brazilian Pão de Queijo, served with a creamy cheese dip.
BABY POP CORN | SMOKED MISO - I enjoyed this dish: tiny ears of baby corn, flavoured with miso and grilled.
KANGAROO LOIN | WATTLESEED | BURNT CARROTS | RED ONION
BLACKBERRY ICE CREAM | LIQUORICE | COCONUT
Granted, it is a good restaurant - competently run and which has garnered such a strong following that there are now two seatings for dinner, the first commencing at an ungodly time of 6pm (who has a dinner date at that hour?), whilst the second commences at 8.15pm. But its 1-Michelin-star rating in the latest Singapore Guide must surely raise some eye-brows.
Michelin-stars seem cheaper these days, dispensed by their inspectors as easily as an elementary teacher gives star stickers to pupils for good essays. But then, Singapore’s Michelin Guide also actually gave stars to wonky little hawker stalls located in grimy food centres with greasy floors, so maybe granting a star to Cheek by Jowl seems pretty fair, with their careful, personalised service, and comfortable, albeit very understated, ambience.
Still, its cooking is predictable, verging on the mundane, lacking the oomph factor I find in London eateries this year like Ollie Dabbous’ Henrietta ([London] Ollie Dabbous’ Henrietta Restaurant in Covent Garden), or the supremely artistic Portland ([London] Lunch at Portland, Fitzrovia).
Singapore has a long way to go before its fine dining standards reach the level of Sydney’s, let alone London.
Cheek by Jowl
21 Boon Tat Street
Tel: +65 6221 1911
Operating hours: 12 noon - 2.30pm (lunch) and 6pm to 10pm (dinner - 2 seatings) Mon-Fri,
6pm-10pm (dinner only) on Saturday, closed on Sunday.