|Maggie Joan’s entrance at the far end of Gemmil Lane|
After a brief respite, the Club Street dining enclave is humming again. The buzz now centres on Gemmill Lane, a nondescript laneway home to offices, a pilates studio, a dodgy-looking spa as well as Luke’s Oyster Bar & Chop House and Club Street Social.
Now joined by Delicacy and Bar-a-Thym, with Angeleno due to debut in November, the once quiet street has awakened from a deep slumber. Its allure has even spilt over to an adjoining alley where the backdoor of an Amoy Road shop house opens into a new ‘hidden’ restaurant, Maggie Joan’s (“MJ”).
The only newbie on the street without a shop front, MJ is the brainchild of the Ballis father-and-son team behind Moosehead Kitchen Bar and Darren Micallef, junior Ballis’ college mate from Australia.
Set in the rear corner of a shop house space shared with an office tenant that is separated from the restaurant by an erected concrete wall, the 50-seat windowless eatery has an underground vibe that feels almost illicit.
|The first dining room at Maggie Joan’s|
|The main dining room where a cage-in semi-open kitchen sits|
The first dining room is dark, somewhat narrow, with tables, chairs and banquettes in dark wood set against original exposed brick walls. It leads to a roomy main dining room with more brick walls and a ceiling festooned with giant copper-like cylindrical lamps. At the end of the room, which is shared with a caged-in semi-open kitchen, a round table holds court below a glorious antique chandelier. If you’re planning on conducting a clandestine affair and prefer not to draw too much attention, adjourn to the corner private room – it’s cozy, pretty with Mediterranean tiles and provides comfortable seating with padded banquettes.
For diners who have been eating and drinking Mediterranean since the inception of Esmirada or the likes, MJ reads like a new chapter – even an annex – in Mediterranean dining. It embraces ingredients like olive oil, tomatoes, seeds, nuts, herbs and spices that are available in abundance in this heart-healthy cuisine but gives them a modern spin. It banks on the Ballis’ Greek-Mediterranean heritage but also builds on the contemporary cooking chops of British head chef, Oliver Hyde, former sous chef of Pollen and an alum of Waterside Inn and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.
|Garlic and rosemary-speckled bread with hummus|
|Deep fried and dukkah-dusted slow-poached egg with yolk-like saffron mayo|
|Jerusalem artichoke, Manchego, toasted nuts|
During our dinner several weeks after opening, we grazed on garlic and rosemary speckled bread dipped in cumin-laced hummus (S$5); dipped into a perfectly seasoned slow-poached egg that was deep-fried then dusted with dukkah (S$6), which broke and oozed into a yolk-like disc of saffron mayo; and feasted on wedges of earthy Jerusalem artichoke resting on Manchego cheese sauce (S$8), each evenly coated in shaved Manchego and toasted nuts (almonds, sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds) so crisp that the next door diner could almost hear the crunch. The flavours were flawless and the textures spot on. (4/5)
|Heirloom tomatoes, compresse peach, burrata, tapenade|
The salad of caramelized heirloom tomato with sweet compressed peaches and clumps of burrata on tapenade (S$21) was nothing radical but a well-composed salad with equal parts of sweet, savoury and creamy notes. (4/5)
|Yellowtail “sashimi”, carrot escabeche, brandade|
Instead of serving sashimi straight up, Hyde brushed the raw yellowtail fish (S$25) with a thick syrup of oven-roasted lemon and orange so that it imparted a mellow-sweet flavour. Assembled artfully on a plate with carrot escabeche and a fish-of-the-day brandade, this was one of the more accomplished western interpretations of sashimi we’ve tasted. (4.25/5)
|Hokkaido scallops, peas, Iberico paleta|
There were also thick lobes of sliced Hokkaido scallops (S$21) marinated in sherry, lemon and olive oil served alongside mint-accented pea puree, fresh peas and fried iberico paleta. Finished with a generous dust of fried sour dough crumbs, the dish had a marvelous balance of refreshment, textures and umami. (4.25/5)
|Iberico secreto, prunes, cauliflower|
For mains, top marks went to the Inka oven-grilled iberico secreto with prunes and cauliflower (S$34). To give the pork its tender bite, the meat was brined and slow-cooked for 12 hours. It was finished on the grill and served on a bed of cauliflower puree with pickled cauliflower, marinated prunes and fried curry leaves. (4.25/5)
|Pan-roasted seabass, tomatoes|
There was also a dish of pan-roasted seabass with variations of pickled and marinated tomatoes (S$28). It was comparatively less memorable; we put it to the less-than-savoury pesto broth that overwhelmed the palate with the richness of the pine nuts. If vegetable stock were in the recipe, we did not taste it. (3.5/5)
|Roasted apricot, ricotta, lemon and orange zest|
For desserts, you’ll be richly rewarded if you step off the beaten track. Roasted apricot with melted house made ricotta perfumed with rosemary oil and the zest of lemon and orange. Slivers of chopped almonds were also thrown in for added texture. (4/5)
When a restaurant reinvents the wheel on a cuisine, particularly something as well loved as Mediterranean, it’s often a risk that can prove suicidal. Thankfully, Maggie Joan’s gamble paid off quite handsomely.
110 Amoy Street #01-01 (entrance from Gemmill Lane), Singapore 069 930| +65- 6221 5564 | maggiejoans.com
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on 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.