[Singapore] Lunch at Island Cafe, Tangs

Island Café was conceptualised by CK Tang back in 1993 as Singapore’s answer to the Fifth Floor at Harvey Nichols in London at that time: an elegant in-house destination restaurant ensconced within an exclusive department store.

Island Café also follows the concept pioneered by Chatterbox at the Mandarin Orchard which elevates every day Singapore street food into deluxe versions with the use of expensive ingredients, served in a posh environment, with prices to match. It achieved a fairly response from the Singaporean dining public at the time.

Fast forward 24 years later - a revamped Tangs still retained Island Café, now sharing the top floor with a trio of personal care/wellness centres. A bar provides pretty decent cocktails and wines. Food-wise, the local favourites are still all there, but standards seemed to have dropped.

  1. Apple vodka-martini - good.

  2. Braised pork (Dongpo) in steamed mantou buns. Pork was not melt-in-the-mouth tender and lacked the strong soysauce-spice flavours one associates with this dish. A travesty.

  3. Fried buns with chilli crab sauce. Very much watered-down and seemed very “in-Singaporean” in its flavours. Maybe their use of non-Singaporeans chefs may have contributed to this.

  1. Tangs’ signature Singapore Curry Laksa, with shrimps, cockles, fishcakes, quails’ eggs. This dish was done correctly. But there is no wow factor, or something that would entice me to ascend 4 floors up Tangs to come back here for another meal.

More misses than hits - sad.

Island Café
4/F Tangs at Tang Plaza
310 Orchard Road
Singapore 238864
Tel: +65 6311 3424
Operating hours: 10.30am-9.30pm Mon-Sat, 11am-8.30pm Sun.

Does Tangs sell prepared foods and fresh groceries like Harvey Nicks does, or just packaged foodstuffs?

No, unlike Harvey Nicks with its fab luxury food & grocery section, Tangs doesn’t have one. Instead, its basement level with its household/kitchenware department also has a good, smallish food hall with some very popular food kiosks: a Nyonya one (my favourite spot) by PeraMakan restaurant group, one offering Singapore-style Hokkien noodles, one which does a Singaporean (i.e. heavier, gluggier) rendition of Penang fried kway teow noodles, a “Penang” cendol and rojak kiosk (somehow, they can’t replicate the cleaner, keener flavours one finds in Penang), a steamed bao & dimsum kiosk, a Hainanese chicken rice one, etc.

I guess the food hall reflects Singaporeans’ lifestyle - who are more likely to eat out than cook at home. So, food kiosks with hot, ready-to-eat meals are more relevant than a supermarket. 90% of Singaporean women can’t cook anyway, or don’t want to, so grocery shopping is not really as important.

Thank for the good info. The kiosks could still serve the same purpose as Harvey Nicks in providing the makings of a tasty “picnic in the room” instead of seeking a restaurant table or calling room service when it’s been a long enough day for a visitor.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold

Market stall in Lima
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