SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - There is a chill that sets in the moment we enter Blue Jasmine. It is like the cold towel that gracious hotel staff in Thai resorts always offer when you check in. Except it is wrapped around your whole body while they roll you into a walk-in chiller for good measure. While said gracious staffer beams, "Sawasdee ka".
Despite the glacial air-conditioning of the new Park Hotel in Farrer Park, the welcome is warm at this poolside restaurant which dons a Thai persona after it is done serving an international buffet breakfast. The staff are not Thai - actually most of them are not Singaporean - but we get helpful, attentive service which includes joining two small tables together without prompting, so we do not need to fight with our food for elbow space.
Full-length glass separates the restaurant from the pool and a good view of the surrounding Little India neighbourhood.
The menu is slightly modernised Thai with an Isarn touch, hence the smattering of larbs or spicy meat or fish-based salads.
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There is a salmon larb that is "tomato concassed" on the menu, but we decide not to ask what the salmon did to the tomato to elicit such a violent reaction.
We settle instead on the more self-explanatory Tiger Cry Grilled Beef Salad (S$20), since we expect tigers to weep with joy if presented with a beef salad.
It is rather good, mainly because the beef is a proper ribeye, grilled and sliced into tender strips without much gristle, tossed in a perky dressing of lime and fish sauce, fragrant chopped herbs, shallots and crispy rice. It is just slightly spicy, certainly not tear-inducing but one of the better dishes on the menu.
The tom yam soup (S$20) comes in two versions - clear or creamy - and we opt for the latter. It is a generous portion of coconut milk-enhanced broth that looks fiercely red but is really a mild-mannered Thai classic with a truckload of chopped lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, oyster mushrooms and onions. A good number of medium-sized prawns populate this soup that, despite their freshness, have little flavour.
What is given a double whammy of taste and wok hei is the stir-fried glass noodles (S$16) that have been dancing in a very hot wok with beaten eggs that are fluffy and prawns that are again plentiful. It is a straightforward stir fry that's so easy to get wrong but is so right here.
There is less enthusiasm for the crab in yellow curry (S$26) which tastes of packaged coconut milk and boasts a vague whiff of perfume. Colourful nests of blue vermicelli look more decorative than edible, but the two harmonise quite well once you get the hang of untangling the noodles and spooning the fresh crabmeat mixture over it. The shredded betel leaves in the curry have a kale-like flavour and texture - an interesting touch.
Unfortunately, the chef fails the Thai fried fish test. The skill that separates the expert from the rest is not present in the dancing crispy sea bass (S$28), which is drizzled with fish sauce and garnished with green mango salad instead of a chilli-based sauce. Instead of being fried whole (the test of a chef), the fish meat is cut into cubes for easy frying and assembled with the separately fried skeleton. It is dry and tastes like the shortcut it is.
For dessert, coconut ice cream (S$12) starts out tasting like it, but ends up more vanilla-like. It sits on top of blue sticky rice, sweetened with gula Melaka syrup and distracting blueberries. You are better off with the classic red ruby (S$12) even though the water chestnut jujubes are pastel coloured. They are matched with coconut and jackfruit flesh and vanilla ice cream - cheers for simple joys.
Blue Jasmine is full of good intentions and is a clear work-in-progress. As far as hotel quality goes, it shows promise. It is early days yet, so give the kitchen team a chance to, well, warm up a little more.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.