Indocafe – The White House (Singapore)

Setting

 

The facade of Indocafe The White House @ Scotts Road

 

Unbeknownst to many, the stately black-and-white colonial building at the Scotts Road thoroughfare that once housed a car rental office has been playing host to a Peranakan outfit since January 2012.

Owned by Indocafe (whose office used to sit in now-vacant colonial building that shares the same plot) and managed by the folks behind The Connoisseur Concerto (who owns and manages next-door neighbours Ki-Sho and Buono Terra), Indocafe The White House (henceforth referred to as “Indocafe”) may not be aptly named for its intent but make no mistake, it’s every bit as Peranakan as your favourite Straits Chinese joint. If Ivins serves up fast food-style Peranakan fare, think of Indocafe as the fine dining equivalent (minus the super hefty price tag).

The interior of Indocafe is decked out in elegant colonial splendour
 

Befitting its lofty ambition, the 38-seat Indocafe (the capacity doubles to about 60 for private events) is decked out in elegant colonial splendor with parquet wood floor, dark wood tables against rattan chairs and walls punctuated with framed-up nonya kebaya, a welcome departure from the rich Peranakan setting staged in a handful of equally fine Straits Chinese restaurants.

What to expect

Besides the quintessential Peranakan fare that we are familiar with – think ayam buah keluak, babi pongteh and itek tim – the menu at Indocafe is headlined by Penang-style Peranakan cuisine, cooked by a Penang-imported Chinese chef, no less.

Assam laksa – Penang Peranakan’s biggest export

If assam laksa (S$12) is an accurate barometer of the eatery’s finesse, then Indocafe is off to a flying start with its addictive fish broth teeming with the tart, pungent and piquant flavours of tamarind and belacan. Shredded kembung fish and a drizzle of pungent shrimp paste completes the umami flavours of this Penang-Peranakan staple.

Kerabu bok nee (left)

Indocafe is not a one trick pony. Scattered throughout the menu are a handful of kerabu (Penang’s nonya-style salad that features strong Thai accents) dishes: kerabu Maine lobster (S$38), which the restaurant created to satiate diners’ appetite for upscale seafood and kerabu bok nee (S$12), a toss of black fungus and shredded chicken in an exhilaratingly tangy, somewhat piquant, sambal dressing that had us rapt.

Classic Penang otah

The dish of classic Penang otah (S$10) is also a gem. Unlike the dry and pasty local variety, Indocafe steers close to Penang’s recipe with a chawan mushi-like egg-and-coconut milk custard and a piece of seabass fillet ensconced within. Crowning the milky ambrosia is a piece of daun kaduk (wild betel) leaf plucked from the eatery’s very own backyard.

Seafood assam nanas pedas

Seafood assam nanas pedas (S$32) is noteworthy for the ensemble of luscious prawns, ladyfingers and tomatoes lounging in a deliciously addictive sweet-and-spicy pineapple gravy spiked with assam.
 


There are also standouts off the Penang-Peranakan radar.

Stewed pork knuckles with yam, a Penang homestyle Chinese mainstay

The dish of stewed pork knuckles with yam (S$26), a Penang home-style Chinese mainstay, surprises with an amazingly tender texture, its porky flavours nicely cushioned by the earthiness from the so-soft-it-flakes yam. 

Seafood gulai tumis (silver pomfret)

The seafood gulai tumis (S$40 for silver pomfret) is also another winner with fillet of deep fried silver pomfret doused in thick and fragrant nonya curry.


Buah keluak fried rice
 

We are less exuberant about the modern creations. Not least the nonya sashimi salad (S$18), a Peranakan take on the widely popular yusheng dish at Chinese New Year with taisashimi and mesclun drizzled in an underwhelming rempah, nor the single-dimensional buah keluak fried rice (S$16) tossed with carrots.
Kicap manis wagyu
The sweet soya sauce beef steak (S$32), slices of grilled Australian sirloin wagyu steak glazed in kicap manis, is more successful although the we much prefer to savour the beefy flavours of the wagyu sans the intense sweetness of the brown syrupy sauce.

Notwithstanding the absence of a nonya or baba in the kitchen, Indocafe deserves a solid spot on the city’s Peranakan dining circuit. If assam laksa is the only Penang-style Perankan dish you know, Indocafe is a great place to start exploring the Thai-Chinese influences of Penang’s Straits Chinese cooking. Just bear in mind that Indocafe does it finer.

 

Indocafe | 35 Scotts Road | Tel: 65-6733 2656 | www.thehouseofindocafe.com.sg

Note: most of the dishes above are tasting portions rather than a la carte

© Evelyn Chen 2013

Please note that the reviews published in this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.

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