SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) Maca is a veritable cupboard under the stairs: a cramped space under the former Tanglin Post Office that you wouldn't notice unless you tripped and rolled down the steps right into its dining room. But instead of finding budding wizard Harry Potter, you'll find an endearing little restaurant with the potential to be a full-fledged one.
This is meat purveyor Swiss Butchery's second attempt at F&B, having learnt from its previous concept (in the same spot) that there is a reason why they sell meat to other people to cook. We can't remember what it used to serve, although we do wonder if the space (which only a landlord could find good things to say about) was thrown in as a sweetener to get the butchery to open a retail store on street level.
To Maca's credit, they really try to make the place look nice. Cement screed throughout gives it a mod-grunge feel; blond wood chairs, linen napkins and wine glasses show how grown-up they want to be; while the menu leans towards casual Aussie-like flair.
It's a tiny cramped space with a small menu that's designed for sharing, but it's a heartfelt attempt to make good use of Swiss Butchery's range of meats and (mostly) frozen seafood.
56 Tanglin Road
Tel: 6463 8080
Open for dinner Mon and Wed: 6pm to 10pm. Lunch and dinner on Thurs to Sun: 12pm to 3pm; 6pm to 10pm. Closed on Tues.
What is labelled chargrilled baby octopus (S$22) is either regular squid or baby octopus with Rastafarian locks.
The unruly tangle of tentacles and flesh are nonetheless well-charred and boast an appetising wok hei - and smoked miso mayo made out of emulsified miso, olive oil and white vinegar. The mayo cuts the monotony, but the octopus/squid can stand on its own, well, suckers.
Smoked swordfish belly (S$18) is speckled with grill spots although it's served cool and sashimi-like in thin slices piled on top of crushed peas, with mild pickled turnips. A puddle of yuzu juice does double duty in balancing the smokiness of the fish and lifting its otherwise so-so quality.
If artichoke chips ever wanted to challenge the supremacy of the potato crisp, we'll fight on its side if it means more of the crunchy stuff served on the side of the beef tartare (S$18): rough-chopped raw beef mixed with bits of pickled artichoke, smoked egg yolk, herbs and a shower of freshly grated horseradish.
The custardy egg yolk alleviates any salmonella-in-raw-egg anxiety even if it replaces it with another question about why the chef seems so fixated with smoking things. But we're too preoccupied with scooping yolk-smoothened, pickle and spice-infused meat mixture onto the addictive chips to care.
Slow-cooked beef tongue (S$22) has been brined longer than necessary, and so is saltier than it needs to be. Broiled and served in glistening medallions, the rich brown meat lacks a resilient bite but it thankfully stops just short of being mushy. Avocado puree and shaved raw zucchini help to offset the saltiness, but the charred kale's protective coating of vinegar throws you off-balance.
There are fewer curve balls in the fatty but bouncy 12-hour slow- cooked Iberico pork collar (S$36) presented in thick gelatinous chunks ringed with parsnip puree and charred green onions. Not an earthshaker but a welcome taste of familiarity.
Less so is the burnt pear's odd gummy-textured caramel yogurt parfait (S$15) - a mystery pudding that is neither caramel nor yogurt-like. We're not even sure if it's sweet. Neither do we like the health-conscious crumble that refuses to let any sugar pollute its tasteless being. The pear sorbet and roasted pear wedges offer the only reprieve.
Maca's cooking is promising but for now one-dimensional, offering few highs (or lows) and sticking mainly to variations of the same smoked-roast-vinegary theme. It could be the painfully small kitchen that's limiting the chef's cooking range - literally and figuratively. Even so, we think there's room to grow. So if it's got any ambitions to move up creatively, it's got to think beyond the confines of this cupboard space.
What our ratings mean
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
This article was first published on August 3, 2015.
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