SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - With its pure, almost sterile white walls and accents of greenery, Como Cuisine looks like a rehabilitation centre for bak chor mee addicts. Not that we've ever been to one, but we imagine 12-step recovery programmes where you tap into your inner Gwyneth Paltrow and absorb, via osmosis, the whole Como ethos of healthful eating and Zen-like well-being in minimalist designer surroundings.
For the uninitiated, Como Cuisine is a sort-of aggregator of the menus served at Como Resorts around the world. They are high-end temples of cool and devoted to clean living, even developing a signature cuisine where all the adjectives of healthy cooking apply: fresh, raw, sustainable, tasty yet totally good for you. It's the kind of diet that looks good in theory, but which nobody has the time nor inclination to execute in real life. So why not a restaurant that does it all for you?
As the final piece of the jigsaw in the Como Dempsey project, Como Cuisine is the green juice-guzzling sibling in the family of restaurants that include Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Cookhouse, Ippoh tempura and the Michelin-starred Candlenut. Timothy de Souza, who used to cook at Como's property in the Maldives, brings his own spin to the Dempsey menu which offers flashes of familiarity but is mostly of his own making.
There's a strong Indian flair - the healthy kind - with his penchant for chutneys, yoghurt, curries and tandoor cooking, where everything from naan to chicken breast are slapped on the walls of a hot clay oven for that distinctive char.
Where: 18A Dempsey Road
Open: Noon to 3pm, 6 to 9.30pm, Mondays to Fridays; noon to 9.30pm, Saturdays and Sundays
Info: Call 1800-304-6688
Lest you get the idea that only leafy greens, tempeh and salmon are allowed on the menu, Como Cuisine is more healthy-ish than diet-obsessed. At dinner, there is a decadent Beef Wellington (S$48) where the leanness of tenderloin is negated by wobbly rich foie gras, both surrounded by spinach purée and a web of buttery flaky pastry that makes you wonder why something like this is on the menu.
It's a give-and-take approach by a restaurant that at heart wants to be lean, green and clean but doesn't want to be a party pooper, either. It's not quite a mainstream restaurant, not quite health-centric and not truly Como-like, so you don't really know what it stands for. There are also plans to make it all-day dining and introduce more Como dishes on the menu so maybe a fuller picture will emerge over the next few weeks.
In the meantime, just take it at face value as a restaurant that offers a promising line-up of heart-healthy cooking that doesn't taste like it came from your doctor-issued diet list. A bread basket of freshly baked naan, sourdough bread and seaweed crackers shows that chef de Souza is adept with dough, with naan that looks potentially dry but maintains resilience even when cold.
His samosas (S$12) are enjoyable nuggets of grease-free pastry - thin with just enough bite - encasing a filling of spicy minced lamb that's not afraid of showing some heat. Minty raita counteracts the heat and adds fresh, tangy depth. For the virtuous, gypsy salad (S$22) is a happy mix of hearts of palm, grapes, tomato, water melon, nuts, feta and olives tossed in a tapenade dressing.
Masala prawn (S$24) pairs firm, almost dry tandoor-cooked prawns that get much-needed moisture from a sweet coconut-chilli dressing. Mango and cucumber add to your fruit and vegetable quota.
Tandoor ovens are the natural enemies of chicken breast so we will never understand why the two seem inseparable. We would never bless the union of dry heat and fat-free meat that always results in over-hyped tandoori chicken. So it's with great suspicion that we view Como's tandoor chicken (S$24) with its impressive char but meat that seems to visibly dehydrate in front of our eyes. But a tentative bite yields almost discernible juiciness - it doesn't last long but we enjoy what we can of it, with help from the cauliflower and smoked paprika puree and yoghurt.
A Reuben sandwich (S$24) isn't what you expect here but lean slices of corned beef are piled between toasted slices of sourdough with a layer of sauerkraut. But the best-executed dish would be the snapper curry (S$32) - bathed in a fragrant, light tomato and onion-based sauce that's full of pep from mustard seeds and spices and just a light touch of coconut milk for depth. Saffron rice topped with fried shallots is the perfect partner.
All healthy bets are off with dessert, unless you count the avocado cream that's part of a medley of chocolate mousse and jaggery (gula Melaka) ice cream that's a riff on the Indonesian coffee and avocado combination. And if Thai milk tea floats your boat, the soft serve ice cream version here will have you sailing to Chatuchak market in your mind.
It may be the closest thing to street food you will find in Como but bak chor mee addicts take heart. This isn't going to cure your habit, but it's a stylish place to try.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.