SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) It's not a name we would pick for a restaurant that wants to be serious about food, but maybe Froth has an air or gravitas about it. After all, it's in the financial district, not Telok Ayer. It sits above a majestic spiral staircase that curls up the lobby of the sober, not-hipster-approved Ascott serviced apartments. It offers private dining rooms somewhere in the 140-seat space. But when we climb up that shiny staircase, we stop short: did we step into a company's staff canteen by mistake?
As it turns out, one person's staff canteen is another person's grunge-chic cafe in a Middle Road boutique hotel called BIG, which is where Froth operated before it moved to Raffles Place with all its furniture in tow. Spartan tables and plasticky void deck chairs (albeit in modern black or grey) in a city-fringe setting may look deliberate, but here, you're not sure whether to sit down or look for a self-service counter to line up at.
Someone tells us later it's still in a transition phase - we don't know what the end result will be but right now it feels like a canteen that just happens to serve some surprisingly grown-up dishes, and switches to full-blown cafe mode at dessert time with its serious arsenal of waffle creations.
2 Finlayson Green
Ascott Raffles Place
Open all day: 7am to 10.30am (breakfast); 11.30am to 10pm (lunch and dinner)
The food is an esoteric mix, swinging from hot and cold foie gras and lobster jelly to Doritos crusted chicken wings and spam fries. There's a fair bit of Asian input from head chef Derrick Ow, who shows a penchant for strong, robust flavours rather than understatement. This is one chef who wants to make sure his ideas come across loud and clear, even if they're more brassy than classy.
Being new to Froth, we stick mainly to the so-called signature dishes conveniently marked out on the menu. Bacon chowder (S$11.90) packs some heft, offering up spoonfuls of piping hot and hearty potato-thickened broth with a cheesy oomph and salty bacon bits. At its heart is a lovely, delicate sous vide egg for you to break, swirl and bask in its ultra rich veneer. Overall, the chowder is saltier than it needs to be, but it's a lot more satisfying than the pretty but underwhelming duck kut teh (S$10.90).
Hot and hearty bacon chowder. (Photo:Froth)
Not content with just using chicken as an alternative to conventional bak kut teh, chef Ow brews duck broth for 12 hours but it still doesn't have the flavour or depth of pork ribs simmered for half that time. But kudos for presentation, as the server presents a veritable bouquet on a plate - artfully arranged rolls of thinly sliced melon, shredded duck meat, carrots, sprouts and purple flowers. He then pours a clear consomme from a teapot over this still life and even invites you to film the process with your phone. But once in the mouth, we can't rationalise the sweet melon in the underseasoned broth (the only dish that aims for restraint) which is too light and bland. The duck meat, like most soups, has had its flavour extracted and only stringiness remains.
Prettily presented duck kut teh. (Photo:Froth)
Where the robustness kicks in for good measure is the siobak aglio (S$25.90), which as the name says, is exactly that. Pasta is tossed in a fiery olive oil and garlic mixture that is closer to Chinese than Italian, and matched with meaty roast pork belly with a thin layer of crisp skin. Purple flowers top the pasta and will make repeated appearances in our meal as if that day is also their date of expiry. But never mind, the pasta appeals to our fried noodles sensibility and the pork is much appreciated protein.
The seafood tom yum risotto (S$29.90) also pleases with its saffron-hued, just slightly short of al dente rice infused in a clean stock where kaffir leaves, lemon grass, galangal and just the right amount of lime juice have left their familiar fragrance and tanginess. The accent of lime lets you eat the risotto without that heavy cloyingness, and the shrimp, clams and squid that adorn it are fresh and plump.
Just escaping overkill is the ponzu soy cod (S$35.90), where slinky firm fish is countered by a strong, salty reduction of sesame ponzu sauce. It's pretty much an amped up teriyaki cod, decorated with a whole bunch of things from cooked leafy vegetables, carrot twirls, blobs of edamame puree and those dang purple flowers again. But we're distracted by an intriguing olive-like fruit that is sweet and turns out to be a baby peach - something we've never seen before.
A ponzu soy cod bordering on overkill. (Photo:Froth)
The aburi lobster (S$19.90) falls straight into overkill territory as we can't tell the luscious chunks of shellfish from its suffocating blanket of squid ink coloured mentaiko cream, rocket leaves, thick sesame dressing, and a soft cooked egg. We emerge from this pool of indiscriminate unctuousness with our palates totally pooped.
That's probably why we cry defeat when our waffles come - in their signature picks of taro (S$15.90) and French toast (S$16.90). They sound expensive until you see the size. A whole crispy waffle cut into four, its dimples filled with unattractive grey taro puree, and taro balls and topped with a scoop of marshmallow ice cream. It's the first time we've seen a waffle that we are actually afraid of. The French toast, in turn, is a case of mistaken identity. We are thinking of literal French toast, but we get waffles deep fried in goreng pisang batter and an actual banana fritter so you can make the connection. And sea salt caramel ice cream. This must be the Asian equivalent of deep fried Mars bars - dessert that goes beyond common sense.
There's nothing airy-fairy about Froth. It just needs to work more on its style, so that it can do justice to its substance.
This article was first published on July 4, 2016.
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