It’s easy to be cynical about the new Tiong Bahru Club. But at this open-air bistro, efforts to pay tribute to a bygone Singapore are evidenced where it clearly matters – the food. If the careworn teak furniture, mosaic floor tiles and marble-top tables scream style over substance, then eat with your eyes closed.
The dishes, like mum’s cooking, are presented with little quirks – the fried chicken ($10.50) crisp turns out a little darker than restaurant cooking and the two fillets of barramundi ($18.80) are deep fried to a slight dryness. The substantial chicken appetiser, however, is perfectly juicy with a thin layer of fragrant lemongrass-dominant rempah embedded in the batter, and the fried fillet gets a lift from a tomato and cucumber achar.
Consider this Mum’s Cooking 2.0 – it doesn’t pack the same innovation as the mod Sin practitioners, but presents the classics with improvements. The devil’s curry ($16.80) comes loaded with chicken, veg and cocktail sausages and is suitable for sharing not only for its heft,but also for its mild spice, though we do wish there was an option to have it as fiery as the Eurasian original. Dessert continues in the same vein, with goreng pisang ($6.80) served with savoury-sweet sauce and a platter of five fried ice creams ($10.50).
The Club also styles itself as a taproom, but with just four beers on tap – three are variations of German Hofbrau ($10-$10.50) – the variety is hardly extensive enough to warrant the name. We also weren’t too impressed with the bland chai ($6.50), brewed on-site in its own kopitiam-style stall by specialists Chaiholics. But the Marlborough white ($9) and Bordeaux red wines ($9) are cheap enough.
The Club will be polarising. Anti- hipsters will write off the concept for cashing in on nostalgia, while the intrepid will fall in love with the flavours. Us? We’re just grateful it’s not another trend-chasing café in the neighbourhood. Natasha Hong