The Australians are coming
And just like that, Sorrel's gone. In these open-and-shut days of our restaurant scene, we wished upon the tea leaves that the fêted restaurant would at least stick around ’til the minting of Singapore's first Michelin guide. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. After head chef Johnston Teo decamped to Julien Royer's Odette for more learning opportunities, and after a few transitional months, The Unlisted Collection quietly put the concept out to pasture. But unlike other F&B tales of salvage, Cheek by Jowl’s not a terrible replacement.
In charge of the modern Australian cuisine now is Rishi Naleendra, a smiley Sri Lankan transplant to ’Straya who ditched a degree in architecture for a journey through illustrious Aussie restaurants like Taxi Dining Room and Tetsuya’s. He’s joined here by his other half, Manuela Toniolo – and it’s clear that the update is warmer and more convivial than its predecessor.
For starters, the new space feels a lot friendlier. The tinted windows in front have been taken down, the walls lightened to a bright white, the soundtrack tuned to jaunty Britrock, and gone are the little piggy canvases that painted the room with a slightly sinister air. Sorrel’s degustation menu has also made way for more unfussy one snack five-course ($58) lunch and five snack five-course ($88) dinner.
Sat close to the open theatre kitchen, it feels like the mood in the kitchen's also lifted. We even managed to coax out a quip about a rabbit starter from a previously po-faced kitchen team member when he comes around with the plate. The tender shreds of torn leg meat ($24) forks up vivid mouthfuls of familiarity with a clear soya sauce-harking gravy, briny fingers of samphire stalks, and dramatic jolts of Sichuan peppercorn. Another starter of chopped veal tartare ($22) is a complex composition that offsets the rich meatiness of wild New Zealand hunted deer with a zingy Japanese-style fermented plum dressing and a light burn of wasabi. Naleendra's take on the hot-right-now plate of beetroots ($17) is textural as it is varied in flavour, hitting the palate with the crunch of wild rice, meaty-sweet red root chunks and spikes of mild goat's cheese and horseradish.
The cooking continues to soar in the main course, and we find euphoria on a hunk of Rangers Valley rib-eye ($55). In a rare feat of cooking, our slab arrives with a perfect thin ring of Maillard-kissed crust, and a garnet red centre that is enhanced with a side of an umami-rich fermented soya sauce. The barramundi ($32), in contrast, is a more pedestrian plate of crisp fillets, accented with turnips and a dusting of burnt lemon powder – it's not bad, just not as great as the steak.
On the dessert end, Naleendra makes good of his acquaintance with Singapore with an almost-savoury bowl of silky coconut ice cream, roughed up with peanuts, citrusy pomelo and a sprinkling of laksa leaves. The bottled cocktails ($16-$19) stopper bush pluckings like wattleseed with a Negroni ($19), and pair combinations like coriander syrup with green tea and tequila in the Green Pineapple ($16). They're no mixologist-level drinks, so skip them in favour of the New Zealand or Australian wines by the glass ($15-$22) or bottle ($68-$250).
With our city’s proximity to Down Under, we wonder why it took so long for the likes of Whitegrass, and now, Cheek by Jowl, to join our scene. No matter. We’re glad you’re finally here.
|Venue name:||Cheek by Jowl||Contact:|
21 Boon Tat
|Opening hours:||Mon-Fri noon-2.30pm & 6pm-10.30am; Sat 6pm-10.30am|