When a restaurant manages to survive for more than a decade while making a refined name for itself against the thumping bass and tight-shirted bro pomp of its Clarke Quay digs, you expect big things. Samia Ahad’s pan-Asian food at Coriander Leaf stood out even when fusion was the culinary F-word, and picked up a whole sleeve of accolades for her cooking school and innovative plates along the way. Fourteen years on, it upped and moved to find itself in better company among the restaurants at CHIJMES.
At its new second-floor schoolhouse unit, Coriander Leaf is transformed into a buzzy 41-seater with a private room for 12, where diners feast under the watchful eye of a mural tiger. The main dining room is adorned with Chinese lattice tile motifs and a cascade of lotus-like zipper hanging lamps, subtly reflecting the restaurant’s Asian persuasions. Meanwhile, Ahad, her chef de cuisine Iskander Latiff, and their team dance around stoves and ovens in a monochromatic open kitchen – it doubles as a show kitchen for cooking classes – surrounded by bold red bar stools.
So, armed with expectation, we order sharing plates from the five flavour categories on the menu: fresh, familiar, spicy, umami and sweet. Our salad of smoky mini-octopus with coriander sprigs ($12) arrives like an over-garnished plate, while the salted egg emulsion that made us hungry on paper fails to register against the muddy brine of the single soft-shelled crab ($16). A small bowl of silken tofu topped with luscious soft-boiled egg and XO sauce ($10) is similarly disjointed and terribly plain. Is this Asian food with the dial turned down to ‘blah’?
The Venus clams ($12) thankfully manage to temporarily quash that thought – its clean broth is fragrant with coconut, tamarind and lime. Bracing, juicy chunks of Ahad’s spicy Frontier chicken ($18) and tandoor-cooked Cape Grim loin ($35), rubbed black and a little too sweet on the surface with kecap manis, fish sauce and lime juice, are better-thought-out items on the menu.
Dessert, however, is a return to disappointment. The White Rabbit ($15) is a puzzling kitchen sink assembly of flan, sweet potato chunks, mango granita, frosted cornflakes, shaved ice and jackfruit. It’s an experimental combination that we can’t fathom. The more refined rose-perfumed milk curd ($12) is too cheesy and difficult to prise from its bowl, our scoop of avocado ice cream is grey and bitter on our complimentary plate of fried banana fritters ($14) – to replace a spiced lava cake ($15) that a broken oven couldn’t cook – which is the unhappy ending to our meal.
Props need be given to the staff and the drinks menu’s commitment to the region, with Amrut and Kavalan whiskies ($15-$24/glass), and Japanese craft beer ($16). Still, it doesn’t brush off the thought that Coriander Leaf tickles cravings with familiar flavours, but kills anticipation with tiny servings and odd combinations.
For a restaurant so practised in injecting excitement into traditional Asian favourites, it now finds itself trumped by hipper, younger upstarts dishing out the same small plates with better success.
|Venue name:||Coriander Leaf|
30 Victoria St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Sat 6-11pm.|
|Do you own this business?|