Old buildings often make lovely venues for restaurants and The Black Swan is the latest example of this. The two-week-old restaurant is housed in The Quadrant, a colonial building in Cecil Street constructed in the 1930s as the regional headquarters of the Kwangtung Provincial Bank. It also served as the headquarters of Four Seas Bank after World War II.
The unusual shape of the building - quadrant means quarter of a circle - plus the high ceiling and solid brick walls give the dining room a retro feel, which the restaurant's designer has taken advantage of by adding Art Deco elements to the decor.
A lounge on a mezzanine floor and a private room in the basement, in what was once the bank vault, are both not ready, but the restaurant was full of buzz when I went for dinner last Monday. Both the bar and dining areas were packed.
The restaurant, owned by the Lo And Behold Group, which also runs The White Rabbit and Loof, has chef Sebastian Ng from Restaurant Ember as consultant for the food. His concept for The Black Swan is to stick to Western classics such as Caesar salad, burgers, duck confit and seafood linguini.
It's all very safe - perhaps too safe.
While everything is nice, nothing is very exciting. And things often fall short of perfection.
Perhaps it's just me but I find little surprise in the food and little personality in the cooking - like a singer who is technically perfect but lacks soul in the singing.
So while I enjoy the meal, there is no moment when I tell myself I have to go back for a particular dish.
If you want something more adventurous, you can find it in the baked bone marrow crostini ($18). I'm not fond of bone marrow but this one is good. Served with crispy toast, it gets a kick from chopped chillies, shallots, chives and konbu sprinkled over the blobs of marrow. They not only add more facets of flavours, but also cut the greasy feel of the marrow.
There are other crostini toppings, such as mushrooms ($9) or egg and bacon confit ($14), and you can order them either as bar snacks or small starters to share for lunch or dinner.
The restaurant serves some nice oysters too. I especially like the Gillardeau ($6.30 each) from France, which are meaty and delicious.
Among the main courses, The Black Swan Burger ($26) stands out for its juicy, flavourful patty, a result of not being overcooked unlike most burgers elsewhere. It comes with butterhead lettuce, onion rings, cheddar cheese and a sunny-side-up egg, which offers nothing new, but is rather nice nonetheless. The accompanying crispy bacon and fries don't do much for me though.
The duck leg confit ($34) stands out for its incredibly crispy skin. The meat is tender enough but what I miss is the thin layer of fat that normally moistens the meat in a good duck confit.
And while the seafood linguini ($32) boasts fresh prawns and squid - the clams are dropped because their quality is not good on the day of my dinner - the pasta is a bit overcooked. Perhaps it is to please diners who prefer soft noodles but I like my pasta more al dente. The flavour is interesting though, with a hint of acidity that perks up the entire dish.
Among the desserts, the one I like is the coconut creme caramel ($14). It is not smooth and a tad too firm, but makes up for those faults with a strong and delicious coconut flavour. Spoon a little in your mouth and let it dissolve slowly on your tongue, then sink back in your seat and enjoy how the coconut flavour permeates your palate.
Like I said, it's all really quite nice.
SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
THE BLACK SWAN
19 Cecil Street (via Market Street), tel: 8181-3305Open: 5 to 10.30pm for dinner (Mondays to Saturdays). Not open for lunch yet. Closed on Sundays
Price: Budget about $100 a person
Coconut creme caramel ($14)
The texture is too dense but the flavour more than makes up for it.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 4, 2013To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to http://www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop/