When looking for wallet-friendly meals, training restaurants run by culinary and hospitality schools are often overlooked as they are usually located on campus or in out-of-the- way locations. However, these restaurants are hidden gems that are worth seeking out.
A recently opened one is The Sapling, which is run by hospitality institute Shatec. It was formerly known as Recipes Bistro and was located in the Treasury Building in High Street. Last November, it re-opened with a new name in Enabling Village, a community space in Lengkok Bahru that is dedicated to integrating disabled people into society.
While it is no longer in town, the 80-seat restaurant is a convenient seven-minute walk from Redhill MRT station.
It is run by a team of about 15 students, who cook, bake and serve customers. But I would not have known that if not for a bunch of freshly minted trainee chefs crowding around a live churros station in the dessert buffet line.
The Sapling serves Western and Asian-fusion food. Its compact lunch menu has 11 dishes, comprising meat dishes, pasta and stews priced between $11.90 and $15.90. The dinner menu is slightly more expensive.
Enabling Village, 20 Lengkok Bahru, Academy Block, 01-17; open: 11am to 10pm (weekday), 8am to 10pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday; tel: 6472-0933 or go to thesapling.sg
The dishes give bang for the buck, as the main courses are packed with side dishes. This can seem like an overzealous way of showcasing the students' culinary skills, but I do not get bored of what is on my plate.
The wait staff greet customers with earnest smiles and top up glasses of water without being asked. Some of them seem wet behind the ears and do not know the popular dishes offhand, but that can be forgiven, given that they are still learning.
The Sapling Imperial Chicken ($11.90) comes with three curled- up deep-fried chicken fillets perched on toasted ciabatta. Taking a leaf from the popular Chinese dish, Imperial pork ribs, the glazed chicken is coated in a piquant, sweet and sour sauce. It cuts through the butteriness of the toast, which is topped with pineapple salsa.
There is also a sunny-side-up egg. I crack the yolk and slather it over the toast and chicken for a velvety mouthfeel. As if that is not enough, there are also sweet potato fries with plum-infused mayonnaise.
I also like the pan-seared kelong sea bass ($12.90), a thick slab of deep-fried seabass on a bed of smooth potato puree, encircled by a vine tomato sauce and crowned with spicy mango salsa. The cubes of mango accentuate the sweetness of the fish and biting into the crispy fish skin with the creamy puree gives a delightful textural contrast. But the tomato sauce is too tart.
If you are still feeling peckish, an add-on of $4.50 (or $5.50 for dinner) should stave off hunger pangs. That gives you access to a buffet of salad, soups and desserts such as churros, cakes and fruit.
But if you have room for only one dessert, save it for the Verrine Criollo ($8.80). The parfait is one of the most value-for-money desserts I have come across.
Good for sharing between two people, the palm-sized jar is a creamy dream. Start from the bottom by scooping up the luscious chocolate ganache and salted butter caramel studded with crunchy crumble, and move on to the lush chantilly cream that is topped with macadamia nut ice cream. And there are still strawberries and chocolate bits to nibble on.