This story was first published in The Sunday Times on Oct 19, 2014.
Rhubarb, a 1½-month-old restaurant in Duxton Hill, does not have a big menu.
There are six choices each for appetisers and main courses, and five desserts, one of which is a selection of cheeses. That’s it, with no soups or sides to pad up the main offerings.
The selection may also look particularly scanty because each dish is called by just one word, such as Salad or Squid – though the other ingredients are then listed in slightly smaller print.
But that actually makes it very easy for the diner to decide what to order. Working by elimination, for example, I crossed out starters such as Foie Gras (too fattening and I’ve been eating too much of it lately), Salad (too boring?) and Prawn (it’s tartare and I prefer prawns that are lightly cooked).
RHUBARB LE RESTAURANT
3 Duxton Hill, tel: 8127-5001
Open: Noon to 3pm (weekday), 7 to 10.30pm (weekday and Saturday), closed on Sunday
Price: Budget about $100 a person, without drink
So I quickly narrow down my choice to Squid ($26) because it is something I like. Plus, the listed ingredients sound enticing: quinoa, squid ink aioli, chorizo and piquillo pepper froth – all very Spanish except for the quinoa, a South American grain that is not only packed with nutrition but also tastes good.
And it turns out great. The squid is cooked just right, succulent and bursting with the stuffing of quinoa and diced chorizo. The frothy piquillo here is one instance when I don’t mind foam in my food. It makes the dish look more interesting than just plain sauce and, unlike a lot of tasteless foam I’ve encountered, this actually adds flavour to the squid.
My dining companion picks Snails ($22) and it turns out to be the only mistake in the meal. The snail and duck gizzard fricassee has little flavour and, as I’m not fond of beets, the pickled stripy beetroot does nothing for me either.
My main course of Scallops ($48) more than makes up for the disappointment, however. The Hokkaido scallops are the plumpest I’ve seen in a while, and they are seared just long enough to be cooked on the outside while leaving the centre undercooked, which is how I like it. Cooking such huge scallops all the way through would have meant turning them to rubber.
The scallops each sit on a disc of compressed pork belly, the meat adding flavour without too much heft. And wedged in between are sheets of crispy chicken skin that are so delicious they actually overshadow even the sweet scallops.
The Barramundi ($44) also surprises me with how good it is. Barramundi, which is what Australians call the Asian seabass, is not a dish I normally order because I find it mediocre in taste and the texture of its meat too soft. But here, it is roasted very nicely, with a crisp coat of fragrant spices and seasonings to relieve the monotony of the fish meat.
And the foamy verbena cream poured over it is a perfect match – fragrant without being pungent and light enough not to overwhelm the fish.
The dish normally comes with a razor clam but, at our dinner, clams are not available and the chef substitutes it with prawns instead. They come in a razor clam shell nonetheless, so visually there isn’t much difference. Tastewise, I would have preferred the crunchy and sweet clams though.
For dessert, go for the Torte ($18). The chocolate and peanut butter torte is an easy crowd-pleaser, though predictable, but what isn’t is the accompanying scoop of hay ice cream with its smoky flavour.
And if you have not eaten rhubarb before, check out the Rhubarb& ($18), in which the red stalks of the vegetable are served with rhubarb sorbet, vanilla ice cream and crumble. I am not a fan of the vegetable but here, both the stalks and the sorbet are infused with rose syrup, which gives them a very pleasant perfume. So in this instance, I like rhubarb.
Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke
Life paid for its meal at the eatery reviewed here.