|Soi 60 at Robertson Quay|
Named for its address at 60 Robertson Quay, one-year-old Soi 60 appears, at first glance, to be one of many casual joints serving food, mediocre or otherwise, catered to the neighbourhood’s al fresco-loving expat community.
Tables and chairs strewed long the pavement that overlooks the Singapore River; upbeat music booming in the background; a dim, spot-lit space with colour-mismatched chairs and a bar boasting a backlit turquoise stand; plus the absence of distinctly-Thai artefacts all make for an impression that is far from Thai-inspired.
With this setting as the backdrop, we really don’t blame the clutch of patrons who order nothing more than a mug of beer and brazenly use the space to engage in work (laptop) or play (mobile device).
But we suggest that you look well beyond the absence of Thai aesthetics. For when you inspect the menu, you will see the rush of Thai influences. If you sample the food, you will discover somewhat off-centre Thai fare that’s sometimes unconventional. And if you ask for the chef, you will meet a 27-year-old Bangkok native, Nam Pongpanich (“Nam”), who has more than Thai street food cred, having graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (New York) and done stints at Daniel Boulud’s outlets in New York and Singapore.
During our dinner on a recent weekday night, Nam fielded a clutch of her signature dishes that demonstrated her flair at matching remotely different ingredients to yield a mostly delicious contemporary cuisine that stays true to the Thai palate.
|Crab betel leaves|
Crab betel leaves (S$14 for 4 pieces), shreds of blue swimmer crab teamed with chopped peanuts, coriander and coconut, were an unexpected yet successful counterpoint to the subtly bitter note of the glossy betel leaves that cradled the crustacean salad.
Salmon tartare (S$14), while not uncommon, was refreshed with lime, coriander and chillies for that distinctive Thai-pizzazz. Better yet, scoop a smidgen of it onto a piece of prawn cracker (served on the side) and savour the unfolding of flavours and textures.
|Crispy duck pancake|
Duck and lychee – unlikely bedfellows, you think? Nam paired them immaculately with onions and basil in a wrap-like pancake (S$12), delivering sweetness, savouriness, spiciness and a whisper of refreshment in every bite. The accompanying reduced black vinegar dip provided a – surprisingly – nice kick of acidity
For mains, the slow-cooked Thai spice-crusted Iberico pork (S$26) accompanied by a heady tamarind dip was a show-stealer. The iberico pork was first dry rubbed with a mélange of spices including coriander, black pepper and chilli, then slow-baked for 3 hours until the aroma of the spices totally permeated the meat. The full-on-flavour pork proved to be somewhat tear jerking but even if we had to choke back tears, we would re-order it. And the delicious pile of pickled ginger and young garlic salad served on the side, this could well be a dish on its own to be devoured on clean-eating days.
We were less enthusiastic about the lamb massaman (S$26), a straight off Thai recipe with bone-in lamb that was aptly fall-off-the-bone tender. The curry was, however, lacking in robustness although it did not fall short in the “richness” department while the potatoes offered enough resistance to give the jaw an unwelcomed workout.
If you try to seek solace in the coconut chicken salad (S$16), you wouldn’t find comfort in the shreds of bare-tasting chicken tossed with toasted sunflower seeds, pomegranate seeds and pea sprouts. To add insult to injury, the “spicy” coconut dressing arrived dull, with nary a hint of spice nor flavour.
The desserts brought somewhat better tidings.
|Black sticky rice|
Instead of the classic mango sticky rice, Nam melded a few classics and presented it as black sticky rice (S$10), coconut cream-doused black glutinous rice crowned with a slab of fresh mango. You will like it if you were not expecting the expected (i.e. mango sticky rice).
|Butterfly pea tapioca|
If you enjoy sago, try the butterfly pea tapioca (S$10), clumps of butterfly pea-tinted sago pearls with young coconut shavings, so-tough-it-was-impossible-to-chew dehydrated pineapple and a dollop of refreshing pineapple sorbet.
Notwithstanding the few lows, Soi 60 is a worthy contender in the sparsely populated contemporary Thai space. If only more patrons would come here for the food, a budding mod. Thai chef is lurking in the kitchen just waiting to be discovered.
60 Robertson Quay #01-04 The Quayside, Singapore 238 252 | +65-6635 6675 | soi60.com.sg