Eggs are cracked onto tender, fall-apart chunks of fresh lamb and barely tart tomato stew made with lamb marrow stock. Served on the pan in which it was baked, the mixture can be scooped and soaked up by the accompanying boats of pide. A dollop of home-made labneh (strained yoghurt) quells the fresh, piping heat of this Tunisian dish known as Eggs Shakshouka ($20). The forces of the universe, it seemed, were in the right places. And by that I mean all around us.
Artichoke Café + Bar sits on the edge of the Bugis district, within the protective bounds of historical Sculpture Square. The eatery takes up one of the inner former chapel buildings, so despite being situated merely a few feet away from bustling Waterloo Street and Middle Road, the patio and slope-roofed L-shaped structure is almost immune to the throngs and the street traffic’s dust.
The Bar is what greets you at the entrance. Its counter is a thick slab of light wood that sits atop a white-bricked wall, leading into, curiously, a Nordic-inspired, hipster-ised space with streamlined, stainless steel lampshades. A chalkboard, and artist-rendered walls of menus and delicate motifs, form the backdrop. This all smacks of Swedish halal café Fika, except the food here is comforting Moorish-Middle Eastern, with playful touches. And there was nothing halal about the dish we were about to have.
This was Hashbrowns and Pigs ($20) – hashbrown discs, onions, country sausage and bacon (thick, smoked, double-fatty cubes) ladled with smouldering, slightly peppery, cider-laced (Pipsqueak apple) gravy and melted red-cheddar cheese. There was no denying it: this is an upgraded, upsized… poutine. It’s an unhealthy, but extremely satisfying mound of myocardial infarction that hit home for this honorary Canadian – we slurped up every last bit of this artery clogger, complemented by the fluffy, evenly broiled Turkish bread that was studded with black sesame seeds.
Not everything was as porky as this offering, however: the tender, twice-cooked lamb ribs may have been evenly spiced with chermoula, lemon jam and tahini yoghurt, but their low temperature left us, uhm, slightly cold. Part of the lamb was also not cleaned well – at one point, we pulled a sheet of membrane out. To finish off, the date pudding ($14) sat on the mushy side, with plating that resembled – pardon the visualisation – dog food. You’d be much better off going for the larger-than-life serving of moist apple cake ($12), draped generously with crumbly walnuts and a gentle, medium-thick vanilla mascarpone sauce.
All that was needed to end this meal was a cleansing cup of fresh mint tea, and perhaps a couple more petals of the smooth, slightly tart marinated artichokes (premium imported flowers, flavoured in-house with za’atar spices – dried herbs, sesame and salt). Unfortunately, it’s only Gryphon teabags they serve here. Celine Asril
Main courses $20-$32.
161 Middle Road
|Opening hours:||Tue-Thu & Sat 6-10pm;, Fri 6pm-midnight;, Sat & Sun 11am-4pm|