SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) Gordon Ramsay is an easy target for haters - those upset by life's many injustices that one buff but foul- mouthed chef with a fondness for hair gel and words rhyming with "duck" can be so successful just by yelling at people on TV.
Or how the three-Michelin-starred chef who can actually cook has instead sold out to soul-sucking celebritydom and the fast money of international chain restaurants.
By the time you're done absorbing the persona of Ramsay as shaped by the UK press, Kitchen Nightmares or even his PR liaisons with local media, your cynical side will be convinced that this is the Devil in cycling shorts lining his pockets with cash, spouting politically correct bonmots about Asia while cackling at us poor deluded souls who are so hard up to be anointed by his presence that we'll settle for a generic British gastrobar that just happens to have his name on it.
If you have no way of judging the man himself, you can at least judge his food at Bread Street Kitchen, which is no Dinner by Heston but it ain't Jamie's Italian either. Plus, Ramsay actually showed up at the opening in Marina Bay Sands, which we can't say about Jamie Oliver at his first Singapore franchise in VivoCity. So one point to team Ramsay.
BREAD STREET KITCHEN
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Visually, Bread Street Kitchen couldn't have asked for a better spot. The night view of the skyscraper-studded river is National Day pride-worthy, and the number of people jogging along the promenade is proof of how diverse the population is. The restaurant itself is two levels of chic - the upper one having the best view - ticking off all the boxes in the how- to-design-a-London-hotspot manual. We like that it attracts a whole spectrum of diners apart from the hipster crowd.
Kids can have (relatively quiet) birthday meals and balding foreign men can make out with their cropped top and skinny jeans-ed sarong party girls at the bar to prove that some old cliches never die.
It's consistency and execution that separates the one good meal and another so-so one we have over several days. (Incidentally, you know you're eating at a foreign import when you can't understand the heavy European accent of the lady who takes your reservation after several attempts to get through its hotline).
Our first lunch is a breeze - we're won over by the lovely warm multigrain and sourdough rolls in the bread basket and the amiable pizza-like flatbread (S$20) covered with comforting butternut squash and Taleggio cheese (but dig out the nasty large sour caper berries if you don't like the acidic contrast). Creamy pea soup (S$18) meets our criteria for a quintessential English staple - hot and thick pulverised green goodness with rich body, and little bits of lobster we initially mistake as fatty bacon bits.
We would go back for the fish and chips (S$26), where fleshy white fish meets a coating of golden crispness with just the right breakaway crunch, and fat fries are made from potatoes actually cut by hand. Mushy peas, though, remain an English oddity we don't get.
Dingley Dell pork chops (S$44) is a sad example of what happens when you take a nice hunk of meat with a bouncy layer of fat and grill all traces of moisture out of it. We can taste what a good piece of pork it is, but we get no joy out of it.
Our second meal is a watered-down affair, maybe because the first-meal novelty is gone. The bread rolls have their original enthusiasm sucked out of them - they're cold, hard and resentful. A good dousing of olive oil has no effect on floury and clumpy pearls of Israeli couscous (S$16), leaving us to pick out the sweet cranberries and corn niblets to salvage what we can. If you want roughage, the red cabbage, kale and fennel salad (S$16) with almonds and sunflower seeds in an orange dressing will cover you in the paleo department.
You could go paleo with the spicy tuna tartare (S$19) without the deep fried wonton skins, but you need them to mitigate the sharp chilli paste, sesame oil and garlic that smothers the raw chopped fish. The chilli marinade is an example of how Western chefs just don't understand Asian flavours - they get the heat but none of the nuances. It's the same with the Bang Bang chicken salad (S$18) we remember from a very old Ramsay cookbook, probably written back in the days when Asian restaurants in London used peanut butter to make satay gravy. So you get that same deja vu from the spicy peanut dressing the chicken is tossed in, with radish and jicama strips added for texture.
For the mains, the lamb chops (S$48) are cheaper than the steaks, and you get three generous-sized chops from a lamb that had time to run about the pasture a bit. There's oomph in the flavour - with enough bite and "lambiness" that may deter those used to single-mouthful baby lamb rack cutlets. The much-heard about slow-roasted pork belly (S$28) tastes more sous-vide than oven-roasted - tender but bland, albeit with a passable crunch of skin.
To end off, the creamy coffee and white chocolate parfait layered with chocolate cereal (S$18) and vaguely boozy Monkey Shoulder cranachon cheesecake (S$18) that's more creamy pudding than cheesecake would win in a face-off with banana sticky toffee pudding (S$18) and treacle tart (S$18). The latter two kind of plod along, weighed down by stodginess, and if this is what a treacle tart tastes like (we've never had it before), then we haven't missed anything. Instead, we miss the extra S$6 we have to pay for desserts that aren't worth more than S$12, tops.
Choose your dishes well, and a meal at Bread Street Kitchen can be highly pleasant. Even if you don't, the meal won't be a disaster. Ramsay hasn't lost the plot - he just needs to flesh it out more. And if he wants to prove he's twice the buff bod we think he is, he'll listen.
Bread Street Kitchen
Bay Level, L1-81
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
2 Bayfront Avenue
Tel: 6688 5665
Open for lunch and dinner daily: 11.30am to 5.30pm; 5.30pm to 10pm (until 12am Thurs to Sat)
What our ratings mean
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
This article was first published on July 06, 2015.
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