SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Origin is a little restaurant with a big menu. Just when you think you have figured out what you want from its mainstay of starters and mains, you stumble upon a comprehensive beef selection that could pass for the entire menu of a regular steakhouse.
This is the latest, perhaps the last, dining spot to be launched under Shangri-La hotel's recent overhaul of its Tower Wing.
Origin takes over from the old Nadaman, which has been scrubbed clean of its weary, old-Japanese-man aesthetic and resurrected with bright, youthful vigour.
As a new concept, Origin needs a story to tell, so it has picked a few current trends as its starting points. There is a cocktail bar because every new hotel has one; a steakhouse because meat-lovers have learned new buzzwords like "dry-aged" and "full-blood wagyu"; and a gentlemen's club look and feel with the masculine decor of rich wood and leather banquettes.
There is also a nod to luxury train travel in some of its design elements, including a fascinating mechanical contraption at the entrance which rather looks like the working digestive system of a gold-plated autobot.
Bar aside, the Grill itself has not got a strong identity of its own, coming across as a default option for diners with no real opinion about what they want to eat, but want a nice place to do so.
Maybe it plays down its very interesting beef menu because it does not want to be saddled with a steakhouse label. Instead, it treats all food groups equally with a conventional all-day-dining type menu with a slight Australian twang, thanks to its Sydney-born lady chef.
With relaxing jazz playing in the background, we chew on rubbery but not unpleasant charred octopus (S$24) in a distinctive Mediterranean presentation of spiced tomato jam and eggplant purée, topped with fava beans. There's a fight for attention as the octopus tries to hold its own against the more assertive tomato and eggplant, losing out in the end in this lopsided dish.
A clear soup of chicken and corn (S$20) is a surprise Chinese special so we have to have it, even though we know it's a Westernised version with roots in Asian takeaway joints. Apart from shredded chicken kept rather long in the fridge and a temperature that's less than piping hot, it's comforting fare, streaked with ribbons of beaten egg and corn niblets.
A clear winner on the evening we visit is the grass-fed Australian lamb rack (S$58) - literally fork-tender pink flesh, its mild gaminess a good match with the earthy-sweet beetroot sauce, bitter radicchio and tangy labneh (Greek yoghurt cheese) coated in chopped pistachios. A sweet, nut-covered date makes this almost a two-in-one main and cheese course. It almost makes us forget that it's rather pricey for two meaty chops.
Origin's beef menu reads like the programme of an international prime cattle auction. There is 300-day grain fed Black Angus; Irish 35-day dry-aged, grass-fed rib-eye; cross-bred wagyu; full-blood wagyu; Australian wagyu fed on a Japanese diet; Japanese-origin wagyu. You can almost imagine cows at a convention with ear-pieces for real-time translation.
With most of them sold in hefty cuts of 250gm and above, the smallest and cheapest we can find is a 180gm tenderloin of Williams River cross-bred wagyu, 400-day grain-fed from North Queensland (S$58). For a lean cut like tenderloin, it's got good marbling, and we manage to get a few juicy bites before the air-conditioning dries it out.
To end off, the brioche donut with coffee ice cream (S$16) is a dense, chewy fried brioche dough that miraculously takes on a realistic whiff and taste of Dunkin' Donuts, filled with upscale orange cream and a scoop of vanilla ice cream (at our request). It's a dessert that aims at your inner child, but the reality of middle-aged sugar-intolerance levels has you giving up halfway.
Nonetheless, you find space in a third stomach for the house-made chocolate fudge cake (S$14) - a rich, layered brownie that you like enough to doggy-bag what you can't finish of the very large slice.
Origin has just begun its journey so you don't really know where it's going to end up. It is not the most original tale, but overall, it is an encouraging start.
Origin Grill & Bar
Where: Lobby level, Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, 22 Orange Grove Road
Open: Noon to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10.30pm, daily
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