Food review: The Clifford Pier serves good food in a grand setting

The Clifford Pier, which serves hawker fare, recalls a colonial age of elegance and glamour

Rickshaw noodle. -- PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE
Rickshaw noodle. -- PHOTO: WONG AH YOKE
The soup kambing ($19) has a rich broth which is spiced just right. -- PHOTO: FULLERTON BAY HOTEL

While I would not advocate ordering hawker dishes in a hotel in other countries, I often do so in Singapore.

That's because while hawkers in, say, Malaysia and Thailand are usually good, there are more bad than good stalls here. So in comparison, hawker fare in many Singapore hotels is above average, even if it is not the best.

And to justify paying the high prices, hotels may use better quality ingredients. Plus, they offer better ambience and service.

That is why you will see me returning often to The Clifford Pier, at Fullerton Bay Hotel, which opened 11/2 weeks ago.

It takes over One On The Bund, the Chinese restaurant which occupied old Clifford Pier, a historic building where early immigrants to Singapore landed when they arrived on the island.

The interior has been transformed by Hong Kong architect-designer Andre Fu into a grand dining hall, with the space opened up to emphasise the symmetry of the original architecture. Concrete arched trusses hold up the roof, and chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Rows of lamps - custom-made, like almost every item in the restaurant - stand sentinel on either side of the room.

Regular restaurant furniture is interspersed with sofas in lush fabrics. In the evenings, a three-piece band play gentle oldies to add a romantic touch. It all recalls a colonial age of elegance and glamour.

In such a setting, dining on chicken rice and laksa seems rather too casual, but that's what the hotel wants to serve - in a nod to the pier's past, when hawkers plied their trade in the building. Thankfully, it is rather good chicken rice and laksa.

I wouldn't say the food is spectacular, but many dishes are certainly better than what you get at your average hawker stall, though not as good as the best.

Prices are reasonable too. While they are much higher than hawker prices, some dishes are cheaper than those at other five-star hotels.

The chicken rice, for example, costs $19; many other hotels charge more than $20 or even almost $30. Here, you get a choice of breast meat or drumstick, and the usual soup and chilli, ginger and dark soya sauce.

The meat is tender and smooth but bland, typical of most poached chicken in Singapore. But the rice is excellent, as the grains are neither too hard nor mushy, and are very fragrant. The chilli passes muster too, boasting a nice balance of heat and acidity.

The laksa ($23) is rich with coconut milk but, for me, suffers from not having any cockles. It comes with prawns, fishcake, beancurd puffs and quail's eggs.

I like the soup kambing ($19). It is as good as what I have had at hawker stalls, with a rich broth that is spiced just right.

There are some non-hawker dishes on the menu, including a rather good porchetta ($38 for single portion, $68 for half a pig), a suckling pig roasted Western style. The meat is tender and juicy, and the crackling suitably crisp, which makes it better than what you get at many Spanish eateries here.

There is one dish I will not order again, though. The wagyu rendang hanger steak ($28) is not simmered in spices like a good rendang should be. Instead, it is a piece of grilled beef slathered with rendang gravy, which is neither here nor there. I'd rather have either a plain old steak or a good old rendang.

Another thing which needs improving is the slow service. There are no mishaps on my first visit for dinner, but when I return for lunch, I am told the food will take 25 minutes to come. And when it does, the laksa noodles are not what my dining companion asks for.

That would have been easily overlooked, except it takes another 15 minutes for it to be replaced.

I'll put these hiccups to opening jitters - which, nonetheless, need to be fixed quickly if the restaurant wants to avoid getting a reputation for poor service.

Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.