Maggie Joan's, which opened last Monday, is one of the coolest restaurants to open here in a while.
A large part of its appeal lies in its underground vibe, which will no doubt make it an instant hit with the hip crowd.
As with all underground establishments, finding it is not that straightforward. Its address is 110 Amoy Street, but the entrance is actually in Gemmill Lane, where the back of the shophouse is.
The reason is that the unit, which used to house a Taiwan porridge eatery, has been carved into two separate spaces. The front portion is used as an office by another tenant and there is no access to the back.
You spot Maggie Joan's entrance by a small sign bearing its name and a row of potted olive plants beside a small wooden door that is kept closed.
110 Amoy Street, 01-01 (entrance through Gemmill Lane)
Open: Noon to 2.30pm (Monday to Friday), 6 to 11pm
(Monday to Saturday). Closed on Sunday
Food: 4 stars
Service: 3.5 stars
Ambience: 4 stars
Price: Budget from $80 to $90 a person
Inside, you are greeted by a small dining room, with an open kitchen and bar at the back. Is that all, you wonder?
But walk in and an inner room comes into view, with a row of tables that allow you a view of the action in the kitchen. And even deeper in is a semi-private area that seats up to 10 people. Altogether, the restaurant seats about 50.
With no windows, the restaurant has a bunker feel, but the design - brick walls, wooden benches, a mix of cement and tiled floors, large burnished steel lamps and chandeliers - has a beautiful effect that makes this a bunker you feel comfortable in, shielded from the busy business district just a stone's throw away.
Maggie Joan's is opened by Moosehead owners Glen and Daniel Ballis, a father-son team, and new partner Darren Micallef, who is also general manager of the restaurant.
Maggie and Joan are the names of Mr Daniel Ballis' two grandmothers and the restaurant's concept is based on how the two women fill their homes with lovingly cooked food shared with friends and family.
The food is Mediterranean-inspired, but they are not dishes you would find in a traditional restaurant.
Chef Oliver Hyde, who moved from Pollen, has crafted a menu of creative dishes that are more refined than what you would expect to find in an average home, and yet fits in with the rustic chic feel of the interiors.
The appetiser that stands out for me is the Egg, Dukkah & Saffron Mayo ($6), a lightly poached egg rolled in a dry mix of sesame, coriander, cumin, hazelnut and panko, then deep-fried quickly to form an aromatic crust.
The egg yolk oozes out when you cut through it, a nice contrast to the dry crust. And the saffron aioli binds the flavours in a non-assertive way.
The Garlic & Rosemary Bread With Hummus is not complimentary, but the $5 is worth paying for if you like freshly baked fluffy bread with a thin fragrant crust.
If you would rather skip the carbs, then move on to the entrees, where you find interesting seafood items such as Yellowtail Sashimi, Carrots & Brandade ($25) and Scallop Carpaccio, Peas & Ham ($21).
The thick slices of yellowtail are glaced with orange and lemon juices to freshen up the flavour, but it is the brandade that I really like. Unlike the traditional version made with blended salted cod, potatoes and olive oil, this has the smoother texture of a mousse with the use of fresh fish, milk and cream.
Sourdough crumbs scattered over the fish add a nice crispy texture that you do not expect in a sashimi dish.
The scallops, marinated in sherry, lemon juice and olive oil, are sweet and the bits of crispy Iberico ham sprinkled on them are delicious. This is a dish I will order again.
The main courses I have tried - during an invited lunch and a dinner I went on my own - are all good.
If you like your meat soft, go for the Grilled Iberico Pork Secreto, Prunes & Cauliflower ($34). Secreto is pork jowl, a slightly fatty cut that is delicious. Here, the meat is brined and cooked in a water bath for 12 hours to make it tender before going into a charcoal oven. The result is fork-tender meat that is full of flavour, with thin layers of fat that melt in the mouth.
The Slow Braised Lamb Shoulder, Harissa & Pecorino ($29) is excellent too. The meat is tender, under a thin layer of very soft skin. The harissa pepper is restrained to just a hint of spice and it is surprising how well the lumps of pecorino cheese go with the lamb.
The Magret Duck Breast, Roast Carrots & Feta ($80), a hearty 400g piece of meat served sliced, is enough for at least two people.
It requires more chewing than the other meats, but is juicy and you are rewarded with delicious flavours.
There is a smokiness from the charcoal in the oven and the skin is rubbed with spices that remind me a little of Chinese roast duck, only with an even more intense taste.
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- Life paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.