Monday, May 21, 2012

Dining in Singapore - Open Door Policy

I accidentally discovered this bistro when I went to check out 40 Hands, which was described by many as one of the best cafes in Singapore, after dinner at the Tiong Bahru neighborhood the other night. First time I walked by I was surprised to find out this lively restaurant literally in the middle of nowhere full of customers and I only learned later that this place - named "Open Door Policy" (or ODP in short) - is actually partly owned by the people behind 40 Hands.

Out of curiosity, I decided to come back for a visit before I left Singapore (plus I started to get sick of chicken rice towards the end of the trip). I came early straight after work on a Monday so when I arrived, it's not that full. Later on by the time it's around 8 the restaurant's already packed - yes even on a Monday. Given I am by myself, the natural seat of choice would be at the bar, and in this case, their bar seat is located right in front of the "open" kitchen (separated by the glass window) That's definitely the best seat of the house (no matter how many people are in your party) as you have a full view of all the kitchen actions as they laid bare in front of you.

The menu came in the form of those old exercise book we used when in grade school - that's kinda cute and gave this hint of being old-school traditional in terms of their cooking style and food served. I like their menu design - they don't have a crazy long list of choices but with good variety for everyone's tastes and preferences, an indication that the menu's well thought of. With a good amount of items that can be prepared in advance (the slow-cooked beef cheek, for example) combining with ingredients that are prepared fresh, they were able to keep the kitchen small and production line streamlined. Most of the items are traditional French bistro stuff, but they did have some interesting Asian-inspired dishes such as thai-spiced pumpkin and coconut soup, or duck papadum and mint yoghurt dip.
I picked tuna carpaccio as my appetizer dish. Fillet of tuna was seared (presumably by the flame of a torch), thinly sliced and marinated with citrus sauce in advance. Before it's served, it's assembled with the sliced tuna at the bottom, then topped with a salad with sliced radish, threads of daikon and leaves, roasted black sesame, along with a generous pour of miso vinaigrette. It's such simple yet elegant salad - well done. Beef tartare is another starter dish that I found enticing as a few dishes of those were brought out from the kitchen - minced and marinated beef was molded on the plate, toasted slices of bread were put on a stick and served with truffled mayo and potato chips on the side, and according to the dudes next to me who ordered both, they actually prefer the beef tartare over the tuna carpaccio. If I go back to the second visit, that would be no doubt my choice.
As I said, from my seat I was able to observe how the chefs prepare the dish, and they certainly made everything looked so easy. With all those fresh ingredients being placed and used right in front of me, it so made me want to go back to my own kitchen and do some cooking myself. The kitchen's not that big but it seems spacious enough for the 4 of them working inside - one handling the cold or pre-cooked item (salad, appetizer etc), one handling the hot station (searing fish, ladling soup etc), one with the final garnishing and one responsible for the dessert section.
My main course is a 48-hour cooked braised beef cheek with mochi potatoes, carrot puree and snow pea tendrils. Beef cheek's cooked sous vide - no surprise - for 48 hours but what amazed me is the presentation of the dish. It's stunningly eye-catching, which is no easy task as it's hard to assemble a braised beef dish into any meaningful shape and form. The mochi potatoes look like gnocchi but with a more bouncy texture and less starchy taste and the carrot puree has a timid taste and smooth texture. Both went well with the bold and intense flavors from the beef cheek and its jus. The dish's completed with snow pea tendrils and lightly-grilled baby carrots.
The decision for my appetizer and main course was easy, but the one for dessert was nothing but. As I spent most of the time during the meal glancing at the kitchen observing what's coming out from it, my eyes were caught into the many stuff coming out of the pastry corner. Most of the customers went for the pistachio souffle but the deconstructed black forest mousse cake looks attractive as well. There's also a dish called "the 'why just Sunday' ice cream" and classic english apple crumble also came highly recommended by the wait staff. Given they are so particularly about the coffee they brew, I am also interested in giving their affogato a try. At the end I opted for the affogato then the souffle - both were very good. The espresso in the affogato - made with their own blend of beans from 40 Hands - was very strong, so I actually don't mind if they made their vanilla icecream a bit sweeter than they did, but I still appreciate it much. If it's not of my fear of having a sleepless night ahead, I would have gone for their cold drip coffee as well as it sounds interesting (no, they don't do decaf anything - just so you are warned).
Souffle has this nice green color from that of pistachio and with good, fluffy texture, and the warm creme anglaise, served on the side and poured in at the table by the waiter, is rich and creamy. The dish's also balanced by the abundance of cocoa powder sprinkled on top of the souffle and on the side of the ramekan dish (put in before it's baked).
Another thing I like about this restaurant is they seem to use a lot of local ingredients whereever they can - only a handful of ingredients came from a can and as they all prepared in the open kitchen, they can't get away with using less than freshest ingredients or pre-packed food. And service's friendly but not those in your face type uptight - felt like I am having dinner at a friend's home or something more than a fine-dining restaurant. It's not a particularly cheap meal - given the high alcohol price in general in Singapore the meal came to about SGD$100 for 4 courses plus wine, but I reckon it would be a perfect spot for a casual gathering type of dinner, or even as first date!
I love this restaurant and will definitely come back if I have a chance - only if it is to enjoy the kitchen view and try out everything on the rest of the menu. During the month I was in Singapore, I did spend most of the time exploring local food - hawker centers, chicken rice, chili crabs etc, but dinner at ODP is one of the exceptions and certainly a highlight of the my Singapore culinary adventure. On its website, the restaurant is described as great food and drink + buzzy yet intimate atmosphere + friendly intimate service, and I think they managed to do just that.

when? May 14 2012
where? Open Door Policy, 19 Yong Siok Street, Singapore
menu highlights: 48 hour cooked braised beef cheek with mochi potatoes, carrot puree and snow pea tendrils

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