Cheek by Jowl (Singapore) by Rishi Naleendra

Chef Rishi Naleendra at Cheek by Jowl

Even before we could mourn the demise of the short-lived Sorrel, another Unlisted Collection restaurant, Cheek by Jowl, has come into being on the grounds of the former bistronomy at Boon Tat Street.
Not only does it have a new, eye-catching name but the once confined space now sports an open concept with bar seats replacing what was once dark floor-to-ceiling windows. Indoors, wall-adorned art pieces have been stripped to reveal weathered brick walls punctuated with ferns. Thankfully, the familiar chandelier that once headlined the kitchen counter continues to be the restaurant’s centerpiece.
Originally from Sri Lanka, former Maca (Singapore) head chef, Rishi Naleendra, learnt his chops in Australia, having taken on various roles including chef de partie at Tetsuya’s and pastry chef at Yellow by Brent Savage, both in Australia. Since February, the thirty-something chef has been cooking up a storm of the modern Australian kind at Cheek by Jowl alongside his wife, Manuela Toniolo, who runs the floor and curates the mostly organic and biodynamic wine list.
Lunch is a quick and affordable affair with two courses at S$30++ and three courses for S$38++ but dinner is where the gastronomic – and value – potential is greatest, with 5 courses priced at just S$88. An a la carte menu is also available for diners who are not up feasting.
The dinner begins modestly with seared and salted padon peppers (S$9.60) and an amuse bouche of Coffin Bay oyster in Sherry gastrique topped with smoked tomato granite (S$5 a piece), all of which are part of the tasting menu.
Ocean trout
Then, Naleendra seizes your attention with a stunning opening dish of ocean trout (S$22). The New Zealand-sourced fish is cured for 24 hours and served in pool of refreshing cucumber sauce alongside a dollop of palate-arresting whipped buttermilk perfumed with yuzu. On the side are leaves of olive oil-compressed spinach, which provide delicious moments of olive oil-scented relief from the salty-sweet-citrusy combo. (4.5/5)
Venison tartare
Wild New Zealand venison tartare (S$22) follows. To set it apart from the garden-variety tartare, Naleendra introduces shallots, shiso leaves and pickled cashew nuts, and instead of using the ubiquitous Worcestershire sauce, the young chef home makes a fermented plum dressing that gives it an exhilarating lift. Below the mound sits a pool of wasabi-spiked zucchini puree that awakens the palate, yet the sensation from the Japanese horseradish is one of gleeful satisfaction rather than shock. (4.5/5)
Barramundi, bonito butter, leek, puffed rice
Remarkably, the ensuing fish dish continues to keep things interesting for the diner. The Kuhlbarra barramundi arrives perfectly seared, albeit a little dry, with smidgens of caramelized onion puree, a puddle of savoury bonito butter, some kombu-seasoned puffed Japanese rice and wisps of toothsome braised-charred leek. Its overall appeal is one of umami with a hint of savoury richness from the bonito butter. (4.25/5)
Lamb
For his lamb course, Naleendra trades Japanese for Middle Eastern influence. The meat is first marinated in cumin, paprika and coriander, then braised and coated in crushed pistachio before it is seared and served in a pool of parsnip puree with peas and mint. As with the fore courses, execution of the lamb is impeccable. We are, however, indifferent to the tried-and-tested spices-led flavour profile of the lamb. (3.5/5)
Laksa leaf ice cream
The concluding savoury dessert of laksa leaf ice cream (S$15) is one that will invite polarizing reviews. Here, laksa leaf ice cream holds court on a plate with coconut semifreddo, pomelo pulp, peanuts and a drizzle of green chilli sauce. This is an inspiring assembly to say the least but, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not everyone will take to the unusual marriage. We reckon a stronger dose of citrus flavour will give the dessert a whole new dimension (3.75/5)
All things considered, Cheek by Jowl is one of Singapore’s most exciting new restaurants. Not only does Naleendra have an uncanny knack for bringing new and interesting flavours to the table, he makes his tasting menu accessible to the masses with a price point that, by far, offers the best bang for buck.
What’s not to like about Cheek by Jowl?
21 Boon Tat Street, Singapore 069 620; +65 6221 1911
© 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.
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