It’s difficult to do high concept dining inside a business hotel; international travelers are, on the whole, a hard crowd to please. They want food from home, nothing too foreign, yet something that offers enough of the flavour of the city they are visiting to say they’ve been there, done that. Club sandwiches, hamburgers, pasta dressed in the usual tomato/clam/ pesto variety are regularly feature on hotel menus, and often, manning a hotel all-day kitchen is the kiss of death for any chef with creative juices. That is, unless you are working for the W.
Firstly, we love the space: the showcase open kitchen, the wide hallways, the generous spacing between tables, the playful art installations, the vast harbour views... Imagine a grown-up’s playpen: lyrical art that international collectors would drop a pretty penny for, including a Subodh Gupta-esque light display of fine silverware, and an Elle Décor worthy gourmet kitchen with purchasable pre-packed items such as shrink-wrapped chicken confit for the home gourmet.
But however shiny and new Kitchen looks, we came here to try the upmarket comfort food menu they’ve been touting since opening last month. And yes, kiwi executive chef Michael Poutawa, who’s spent over a decade cooking in Asia, had to include the inoffensive club sandwiches and burgers on his all-day dining menu. But he does it with as much pride as he would their yellowtail tuna with pork belly crackling. Burgers are no longer just a patty of meat sandwiched between two slices; they are organic BBQ chicken ($245) ground with spices, plated with designer fries in a perfect mess to balance the display.
Our well-versed waitress, who we recognised from her time at places such as Kee Club, was keen to push the lobster taco ($175), so we went where the day took us. The taco shell, made with large deep fried wonton skins, was good and crunchy while the meat was tender and sweet. The chilli relish complemented the meat without masking the flavour, though an extra shot glass of sauce on the side helped adjust the portion to our taste. The raw fish salad ($190) was simply dressed with soy and lime, and the fish offered enough fat for the tongue. We also shared the Som Tam ($190), which showcased the chef’s love for Thai food. The papaya salad was crunchy and deliciously spicy, and came with perfectly lined barks of morning glory and trimmed French beans.
We were tempted to order the club sandwich or that other Asian hotel classic – Hainan chicken rice. But the thirst for blood got the best of us; the marinated lamb chops ($330) presented in a Moroccan tagine did not disappoint: juicy chops cooked medium and scented with thyme were just what we craved. The organic tenderloin with balsamic glaze ($280) at first looked as plain as Jane, but one taste of the tender meat and the bed of coriander risotto it rested on chased away such notions. The portions were American-sized and the meat tasted like it was from an artisanal farm. A dry-bush of fried kafir lime leaves added a little to the flavour but the solid texture tickled the back of our throats.
Our bill came sandwiched in a children’s cookbook. “Stay for a read,” our waitress said. Kid’s play The Kitchen is not, but this meal certainly brought us back to a time when you could play with your food. Alan Wong