SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - What's in a name, you wonder, as you survey the achingly stylish interiors of this hybrid Turkish eatery named after a plump royal of presumably Persian heritage.
Is it just randomly chosen for its catchy ring or is there another story behind it? Perhaps a Middle-Eastern blue blood who stress-eats in his eponymous dining room? And is so ashamed of his widening girth that he has another smaller, dinner-only eatery installed just behind called Ottoman Room, and makes it really dark so that he can eat his mezze buffet dinner without anyone judging him?
That's because we can think of no other reason why the people behind Ottoman Room would take the trouble to decorate it so beautifully (we've seen pictures) and not let diners see it.
When we ask the gentleman who explains the menu to us by the light of his iPhone, he mumbles something about ambience before disappearing into the comforting brightness of Fat Prince immediately after his menu spiel. We notice many of his colleagues doing the same thing. They come into Ottoman Room, tend to you for a bit and then scuttle back out into the light, as if they can hear the scary jaws of a demented fattie going chomp, chomp, chomp . . .
You see, when you are not in a romantic situation and can't take any photos of your food, there's really not much else you can do but imagine stuff. It doesn't help that we are seated in an extra dark corner without any of the partial glow another table of diners has, either. But never mind. Even as we envy the diners in the front room, we settle down in an attempt to make some sense of our meal.
There's only a S$74 fixed price menu which includes a mezze buffet trolley - a kind of Middle Eastern dim sum concept - and a choice of one meat or fish, and a vegetable-based dish. It's designed as a fine dining version of Fat Prince, which is supposedly inspired by the bohemian cafes of Karakoy in Istanbul.
Fat Prince/Ottoman Room
- 48 Peck Seah Street
Open for lunch and dinner, Tues to Sat (Fat Prince): 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 12 am. Sunday brunch: 11.30pm to 3pm. Open for dinner only, Tues to Sat - 6pm to 12am (Ottoman Room)
The real Karakoy is a colourful district worth exploring once you get past its overpriced seafood eateries and get lost in the little traditional food shops and giant emporiums heaving with displays of pickles, mezzes and cheeses.
Fat Prince and Ottoman Room barely scrape the surface of this heady, colourful district with all its weird and wonderful flavours - but it makes a good effort even if it sometimes gets ahead of itself.
It's especially so at Ottoman Room, which is a grown-up version of the simpler but gutsier fare of Fat Prince. The mezze buffet, for example, has a few treats like delicious, mildly salty smoked olives that are perfectly complemented by slight sweet, crispy olive wafers.
A trio of hummus does nothing for us as it's just basic chickpea puree with varying levels of lemon juice and some spices. Mussels are served in a prawn broth seasoned with smoky spiced sausage that offers a nice palate twist, especially with the chunks of chewy fried potato. Salmon kibbeh nayeh is salmon tartare dressed in a yoghurty dressing with curious condiments such as smoked date puree and a nutty dukkah.
Although the mezzes are refillable, you're unlikely to want a second round if you want to get the mains. But as it turns out, the mains are weaker than the starters, with conflicting flavours that don't balance out.
The "earth oven" apple stuffed lamb shoulder is fork tender but dry and bland, with a faint hit of apples and augmented by pea puree, a spiced gravy and a boiled vegetable which sits there awkwardly like an eavesdropper. None of the elements add up to a tasty whole.
On the other hand, the seared barramundi has a crisp but oversalted skin, sitting in a sweet yoghurt cream. What weirds us out is a lentil salad with an overly strong fragrance of fennel, star anise and mystery spices, grapes and pomelo segments. The inconsistent hand with spices can be jarring - even if one isn't fond of Middle Eastern spices in general, there's a harmony you can detect on the palate, which sadly isn't evident here.
Maybe the chef shouldn't try so hard to impress, because Fat Prince in comparison is bright, breezy, tasty and infinitely more enjoyable than the stifling, contrived dining experience Ottoman Room tries to achieve.
Even the heavy-handed spices of the Turkish kisir (S$14) doesn't put us off the chewy bulgur wheat salad tossed in olive oil, pepper paste and roasted peppers.
And the smooth grey paste that is truffled baba ganoush (S$12) is a fungi-scented smooth eggplant puree with chopped bits in it that we can't quite stop scooping up with the fairly-soft pita bread.
We especially like the okra falafel (S$12) - which is nothing like the dry, throat-sticking clumps we're used to. This is soft, moist and easy to go vegetarian with.
The kebabs (S$9 each) are pretty good too, even if it's all mystery meat to us. We can't tell the difference between duck with pistachio kofte from sweet chilli oregano lamb if not for the pistachio; but they both are savoury, pleasantly gamey and gooey fun to eat, sandwiched with sauces in a soft pita pouch. Haloumi cheese with candied nuts is another hit.
Ottoman Room is a case of deja vu after a similar experience recently at Monti. We're not sure if this is a new dining trend we have to get used to. But before it goes widespread, here's a plea to have an extra lightbulb on hand for people who just want to see what they're eating.
Fat Prince: 7
Ottoman Room: 6
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.