Syed Alwi Road is not a place you would expect to find a cool restaurant in a stylish boutique hotel.
The narrow stretch of road between Jalan Besar and North Canal Road is lined with an assortment of workshops, kopi tiams and bars with neon-lit fronts.
Yet here is where you find the new Vagabond Hotel, a boutique hotel that belongs in the pages of a design magazine. Its lobby is swathed in scarlet and decorated with elephant sculptures sprayed in gold, and the receptionist sits half-hidden behind a life-sized rhinoceros figure.
The lobby area is also where you find 5th Quarter, a tenant run by restaurateur Loh Lik Ping's Unlisted Collection.
39 Syed Alwi Road tel: 6291-1936
Open: Noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm. Closed on Monday
Food: 3.5/5 stars
Service: 3.5/5 stars
Ambience: 3.5/5 stars
Price: Budget about $70 a person, without drinks
The dining room looks more like a lounge, with low tables and plush seats laid out in a sea of red. Copper-hued trees that reach the ceiling break the colour scheme rather dramatically, while a wall is filled with numerous modern art pieces in thick gilded or wooden frames.
The name of the restaurant is translated from the Roman term quinto quarto, which refers to the offal of animals. And its menu lists a few.
The Salt 'N' Pepper Tripe ($10) sounds intriguing. The ox tripe is sous vide till tender before being flash-fried. This gets it delightfully crispy on the outside but tender inside - a contrast in textures that takes you by surprise, but which I enjoy a lot. And it is not burnt at all.
I would prefer the pepper to be more assertive, but since this is a Western, not a Chinese, restaurant, I guess the mild flavour is more suited to the cuisine.
I do not want too much offal, so I skip the Beef Tongue, Onion & Wasabi ($12). But the Pork Collar, Radishes & Praline ($32) comes with pieces of sweetbread, or pancreas, too.
I am not a fan of sweetbread, however. And the collar has been brined before it is cooked, which gets it flavourful but also robs it of its juices. The meat is a little tough. But the praline, made up of chopped nuts and caramel, is delicious.
Another dish, Short Rib, Carrot & Pomegranate ($36), also pairs the meat with a sweet condiment - a fruity pomegranate sauce that works well with the beef. It is a good dish, with the meat nicely grilled and with just enough bite.
The restaurant takes a lot of pride in its charcuterie, which is made in-house. The Duck Prosciutto ($5) is well-priced and I like that it is not overly salty.
The Ox Tail Rilette ($8), however, can do with more salt. It tastes beefy but is so underseasoned, it is bland. A few grains of sea salt or salt flakes would do wonders to it.
Unlike a conventional menu which classifies dishes under starters and main courses, the one here lists them according to the method of cooking. So the sections include Salted & Hung; Smoked, Brined, Cured; and Grilled, Seared, Charred. The dishes are meant to be shared and serving sizes may not be what you expect. A dish that you think is a main course, for example, may come with just two small pieces of meat, while the tripe is rather substantial.
Desserts are classed under Frozen, Churned, Baked. I like the Chocolate Salami, Salted Caramel Ice Cream ($16) for the creative presentation - it is rolled and sliced to look like salami. It is good chocolate too, but the ice cream can do with a more forceful flavour.
The Cured Berries, Yoghurt & Olive Oil ($14) will appeal to those who do not like their dessert too sweet. The tartness of the berries and yoghurt is refreshing and makes a good prelude for what comes later.
Every meal ends with a complimentary cookie topped with caramel. Eat it, no matter how full you are, because it is an amazing cookie. You taste coconut and bacon, which form a wonderful combination with the caramel. But what makes the cookie really stand out is how it crackles as you bite into it, but is nice and chewy in the middle.
It's the best part of the meal. And it's free.
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• Life paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.