SINGAPORE - I am not saying any more that prices at any restaurant are low. The last time I did was in my review for Botanico last month, but I found out last week that its prices have gone up.
And now I hear that The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar, which was opened by the Como Group about two weeks ago, may increase prices too. The restaurant did not confirm it, but said it would gradually adjust prices as new seasonal dishes are introduced.
So if you are planning to dine there, go fast - even though it is not easy getting a table. The reason behind the buzz is New York-based celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who fronts the restaurant.
The Frenchman owns more than 30 eateries around the world, ranging from the high-end Jean-Georges in New York to the more casual Mercato in Hong Kong. The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar is the latest on that list, its name inspired by the fact that the colonial-era building it is in was once the cookhouse for the British military's barracks in the Dempsey area.
The setting is casual, but the menu is a collection of dishes from the chef's vast empire, including some of his fine-dining restaurants. So you find signature dishes such as a raw tuna with avocado that has been kept on the Jean-Georges New York menu for years, as well as the molten chocolate cake that he is famous for, which has been copied by restaurants worldwide since the 1990s.
These may appear dated now, but are good indicators of how the chef rose to fame more than two decades ago. And true classics are those that stand the test of time.
THE DEMPSEY COOKHOUSE & BAR
Block 17D Dempsey Road, tel: 1800-304-5588, open: 6 to 10pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 6 to 11pm (Fridays, Saturdays, eves of public holidays and public holidays), noon to 3pm (brunch on Saturdays and Sundays), noon to 2.30pm (lunch on Mondays to Fridays, starting soon)
Food: 3/5 stars
Service: 3.5/5 stars
Ambience: 4/5 stars
Price: Budget from $70 a person, without drinks
For me, the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare, Avocado, Ginger Marinade, Spicy Radish ($18) works because of its delicious dressing, a blend of soya sauce with a hint of ginger. I like, too, that the tuna is cut into thick ribbons instead of being diced into cubes, as the fish has more bite.
As for the Warm Chocolate Cake ($15), it has become such a cliche that I do not expect to be impressed by it. But I am - the first time.
The recipe has since changed. At my first dinner, which I was invited to with my colleagues when Vongerichten was here for the opening two weeks ago, the cake had grains of salt in it. But when I returned last week on my own, the salt was missing. The dessert was good, but no longer distinctive. Apparently, some customers complained that it was too salty.
As for the other dishes, I don't find any of them bad, but there are just a few that I would go back for.
The Crispy Salmon Sushi, Chipotle Mayonnaise, Soy Glaze ($16) is one of them. The nugget of rice is deep-fried to get it crisp, for a stark but pleasant contrast to the slice of fatty salmon draped over it. A dollop of mayonnaise binds them, its chilli flavour subdued so the fish does not get overwhelmed.
For the main course, I am most impressed with the Prosciutto Wrapped Pork Chop, Glazed Mushrooms, Sage ($32). The meat is a tad tough because it is not Kurobuta or Mangalica - premium meats that, I confess, have spoilt my palate. But the cooking cannot be faulted - the meat is pink in the centre, the way it should be.
The distinctive saltiness from the ham gives the pork an extra dimension of flavour and I have a soft spot for sauteed mushrooms, of which there are plenty here.
Desserts are good, especially the Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sundae ($14). Salted caramel is one of my favourite ice cream flavours. Add to that crispy popcorn and crunchy peanuts covered in hot fudge and it gets even better. Every scoop brings a different sensation, depending on whether you pick up popcorn or a peanut - they look the same under the hot fudge. Either way, it tastes good.
What will tempt me back to The Dempsey Cookhouse, however, is not so much the food as the lovely setting. The restaurant looks like an indoor garden with leafy potted plants, while the bar has an entire wall turned into a vertical garden.
Tall, white filigree wicker chairs fit right into the garden atmosphere, as does the high ceiling. In the evening, the lamps - an eclectic mix of huge, geometric-shaped lanterns and small hanging lights fashioned out of old crystal pieces - give the restaurant a soft glow.
The restaurant opened for brunch last weekend and will start lunch service soon. I would like to see it bathed in sunlight, which I'm sure would be charming.
So yes, I'll be back.
•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke and on Instagram @wongahyoke
•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
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