RESTAURANT REVIEW

Maca hits the mark

Delicious dishes at Maca include (clockwise from above) the 12-Hour Slow Cooked Iberico Pork Collar, Salt Baked Beetroot and Blackberry dessert.
Delicious dishes at Maca include the 12-Hour Slow Cooked Iberico Pork Collar.PHOTO: MACA
Delicious dishes at Maca include (clockwise from above) the 12-Hour Slow Cooked Iberico Pork Collar, Salt Baked Beetroot and Blackberry dessert.
Delicious dishes at Maca include the Blackberry dessert.PHOTO: MACA
Delicious dishes at Maca include (clockwise from above) the 12-Hour Slow Cooked Iberico Pork Collar, Salt Baked Beetroot and Blackberry dessert.
Delicious dishes at Maca include the Salt Baked Beetroot.PHOTO: MACA
Delicious dishes at Maca include (clockwise from above) the 12-Hour Slow Cooked Iberico Pork Collar, Salt Baked Beetroot and Blackberry dessert.
Maca Restaurant.PHOTO: MACA

Strange combinations of ingredients surprise with well-balanced flavours

Maca Restaurant may be named after the Peruvian herb, but it does not appear to have anything to do with it. The cooking is not Peruvian and maca does not appear in any of its dishes.

Instead, says the manager when quizzed, the name is to reflect the supposed energising effects of the herb and how it is able to thrive in the harsh conditions of the Andes.

The restaurant's location in the basement of Tanglin Post Office is nowhere as remote as the Peruvian mountains of course, but firsttimers would certainly benefit from having a guide take them there.

The building's layout is so complicated that it is quite a task finding the restaurant from the basement carpark. Like Alice in Wonderland, you are confronted with a number of closed doors and the sign to the right one is so small you are likely to miss it. So you have to open one after another until you get the right one.

Trying to take the lift to the ground floor does not help because the doors open into a different restaurant and you are told to go back down.

  • MACA RESTAURANT

  • 56 Tanglin Road B1-01 Tanglin Post Office, tel: 6463-8080

    Open: Noon to 4pm, 5 to 10pm (Wednesday to Monday), closed on Tuesday

    Food: 4/5

    Service: 3.5/5

    Ambience: 2.5/5

    Price: Budget about $90 a person, without drinks

When you finally find Maca, it does not look promising.

The 30-seat dining room, with raw concrete floors and walls and furnished with hard wooden furniture, does not look particularly comfortable. And all those hard surfaces mean there is quite a din when the restaurant fills up and everyone tries to be heard.

Then the food arrives and all those problems become unimportant.

Head chef Rishi Naleendra has worked in restaurants in Australia such as Taxi Kitchen in Melbourne and Tetsuya's in Sydney, but his menu at Maca defies classification. There is an Aussie trait in his fondness for yogurt dips, but his cooking is certainly not Australian.

Different ingredients that seem to have nothing to do with one another - such as smoked swordfish belly, avocado and yuzu - are thrown together, but often surprise with how well they taste together.

If there is a unifying character in the chef's cooking, it is that there is always something tart on the plate - whether it is a touch of yuzu, a pickled vegetable or a dollop of yogurt, mixed into an eggplant puree or on its own. If you like sour flavours, you will like that. If not, it's not a problem either - just leave it on the plate.

There are only 20 items on the menu, including sides and desserts, and my two dining companions and I easily share more than half of the dishes among us.

There isn't anything I dislike, although some are more appealing than others. Top for me is the 12 Hour Slow Cooked Iberico Pork Collar ($36), which boasts a succulent texture that one does not expect from slow-cooked meat, which tends to be monotonously soft. The pork has excellent flavour too and is juicy but not fat - characteristics that should find favour with the most picky diner.

The USDA Prime Ribeye ($48 for 225g) is not as good, but still acquits itself well in its tenderness and flavour. But it is lean for a ribeye and is a little dry as a result. But the accompanying fermented soya and wasabi cream helps to counter that as well as give the dish a Japanese character.

Those who prefer fat beef can go for the Matsusaka Sirloin ($90 for 100g), but I am deterred by its price and the fact that 100g is too little for three people.

Instead, I reserve my budget for other dishes such as Salt Baked Beetroot ($17), which matches the sweetness of the vegetable with goat cheese, horse radish and pickled raisins - a wonderful combination. And the beetroot has none of the strong earthy taste that can often make it unpleasant.

The Char Grilled Lamb Rump ($36) is good too, with its tender texture and mild flavour. Served with eggplant puree, eggplant yogurt, mint and pine nuts, it reminds me of lands around the Mediterranean.

Such well-balanced flavours continue with the desserts, especially Blackberry ($15), which comprises blackberry ice cream, coconut, liquorice and chocolate. I hesitate over the unusual combination, but am persuaded by restaurant manager Irene Chow, who declares it her favourite.

And it is good, with the blackberry and chocolate dominating the palate while the coconut and liquorice pop up at intermittent moments.

It is these moments that make dining at Maca memorable and never boring.

•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

•Life paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 26, 2015, with the headline 'Maca hits the mark'. Print Edition | Subscribe