SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) As Hansel & Gretel or Harry Potter might tell you from experience, a shelter in the woods isn't always the haven you expect it to be.
When we first stepped into this shelter in the landscaped jungle of Greenwood Avenue - when previous occupant the Wagon Wheel had just ambled off into the sunset - it was like being in the log cabin of a woodcutter with a preference for kerosene lamps over light bulbs.
It was all heavy furniture and dark, although the woodcutter showed prowess at roasting meat on a spit - a skill no doubt honed from living in the woods and having to catch his own passing chickens and unsuspecting piglets.
But all that roasting and woodcutting left little time for fishing, and you could tell from his seafood pies that he wasn't very good at it.
SHELTER IN THE WOODS
22 Greenwood Avenue
Open for dinner only. Mon, Wed and Thurs: 6.30pm to 10pm; Fri and Sat: 6pm to 10pm; Sun: 6pm to 9.30pm. Closed on Tue.
Well, that was a few months ago. Now, a bright light streams through this cabin, which trades in its old school lumberjack demeanour for a fresh, welcoming vibe with its open door concept and cheery decor.
With squirrel figurines on the tables and a deer's head above the fake fireplace, it's clear that this woodcutter has been reading up on log cabin chic.
Welcoming you are the genuinely warm staff, particularly Anthony, whose hospitable nature and knowledge of the menu is part of the pleasure of eating here.
The solid front of house service he provides is well matched by the food - as executed by Japanese consultant chef Masashi Horiuchi.
The whole French country cooking concept is played out to the last detail with everything from pates to rillettes, duck confit, gratin dauphinois and clafoutis.
There is no trace of a Japanese accent on the food, although the French-trained chef Horiuchi lends a lighter touch and clean precision to the cooking. So while the food is by nature filling, the portion size and recipe keep heartburn at bay.
A walk past the display case filled with an enticing line-up of terrines and pates sparks an involuntary urge to ask for some baguette and a big spoon, but a less anti-social approach can be employed at the table where you order a more genteel charcuterie board (S$30).
Call it a sampling platter of things that can be shredded, creamed and set in jelly in the most artful manner. A little jar of pork rillettes yields barely discernible shreds of meat in savoury pate with a consistency of sturdy whipped cream.
Foie gras torchon are disks of silky smooth liver parfait, while the centrepiece is the pate en croute - compressed cubes of veal, pork, liver, mushrooms and pistachio with a shiny layer of aspic just where the pate meets its pastry crust.
The latter is there to lend more form than taste as you're more likely to eat within the pastry border - if you need bread, there's light and airy brioche toast or slices of dense poolish (pre-fermented) bread.
Although our first experience at Shelter in the Woods had us convinced never to order seafood in a rotisserie restaurant, a tentative spoon into the seafood casserole (S$35) has us putting our fears to rest.
There isn't a bad clam to sneak up on us and deliver the gustatory equivalent of the guy who walks into the lift wearing clothes that dried without the help of the sun.
The scallop has a slight fishball-y texture but is fresh enough, and the prawn may well have been spinning on its whiskers a few minutes ago. The gang sits in a thinned-out bisque-like broth that's light-handed in flavour.
Perfect to sip as a soup, and dunk in the two slices of cheesy toast that come with it.
We bypass the tried-and-true roast suckling pig for the other house signature - rotisserie chicken (S$19 for half/S$35 for whole). All that slow turning yields tender thigh meat but somewhat dry breast meat, although it's easily rectified with the gravy that accompanies it.
Oh, if you smell smoke at this time, it's not something burning in the kitchen. It's just people hanging around outside the open entrance, who think your chicken's flavour would be enhanced by some secondary smoking.
Desserts are not Shelter's strong point, even though there's an irresistible looking range of tarts and pies on display. The lemon meringue tart (S$12) suffers from a limp crust when a sable or cookie-crisp dough would have done more to perk up the mellow lemon curd and vanilla ice cream.
The deconstructed pineapple (S$14) crumble is built around a hunk of pineapple grilled on the rotisserie to intensify its sweetness and shrink the water content so you get a meaty, tender fruit.
The fruit isn't as intensely flavoured as we would like, while the soft crumble is a tad under-baked hence the hint of raw dough taste. Skip the crumble and just eat the fruit with the ice cream for a simple sweet end.
With its party atmosphere, it's not the place for a quiet meal. But for anyone headed into this neck of the woods, Shelter is shaping up to be the refuge of choice.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
This article was first published on Dec 22, 2014.
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