The warning by the World Health Organization that red meat is likely to cause cancer could go one of two ways: a stampede towards a veggie-based cuisine, or a snub by steak-loving Singaporeans.
On a monsoon-drenched Sunday afternoon, the sleepy quiet at Dempsey Village’s steakhouse Portico Prime might, though you'd hope not, be a sign of the times.
From the kitchen, Nixon Low, the executive chef at the first Portico on Alexandra Road, keeps the menu small and carnivorous. And ‘small’ seems to be the word du jour at Portico Prime. The idea of delicate portions seems oxymoronic in a steakhouse, but two wedges of gone-in-a-single-bite bread and an equally trifling swirl of umami-rich seaweed butter are a worrying portent.
Similarly, a ravishingly beautiful salad of heirloom tomato chunks ($24) is petite but, to its credit, packs a punch beyond its weight category – crisp wedges of red and jade-green fruit nuzzle tanned shards of jamon Serrano, purple flowers, quinoa sprinklings, and a golden scoop of frozen honey melon.
Mains include fish and chips, barramundi, chicken and pork chops, but why eat any of that in a steakhouse? That said, the steak offerings are – here’s that word again – small with just three cuts: a Rangers Valley Angus tenderloin ($104/200g), an ambiguously named ‘UK native breed striploin’ ($56/200g) that tasted of wild grass but which was otherwise unmemorable, and a standout thin slab of Tochigi wagyu rib-eye A4 ($116/200g) that was meaty-rich, sweet, fatty, tender yet textured, and naturally salty all at once. The accompanying truffle-scented beef jus, while mutedly pleasant, was entirely unnecessary.
The kitchen shifts gears for desserts as the energy level lifts noticeably. A deconstructed blackforest ($17) is exactly that – small cones of 70 percent dark chocolate mousse, cherry coulis, caramel ice cream lounging on hazelnut crumbs (unoriginally described, in the age of Noma, as ‘edible soil’) and finished with a crowd-pleasing Heston-inspired sprinkle of exploding sugar. The crème brûlée ($15), barely coating the bottom of the palm-sized dish, was accented with coconut, grapefruit segments, cranberry biscotti and an unexpected bright hit of thyme.
Dining at Dempsey is so cheap. Said no one, ever. And at Portico Prime, the bill for a salad, two steaks and two desserts came to just over $284. Add corkage at $50 per bottle (though there is a one-for-one offer) and it seemed like a lot to pay for an unremarkable meal. Daven Wu
Time Out Singapore reviews anonymously and pays for all meals. Read our restaurant review policy here.
What the stars mean:
★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional