The January opening of Jam at Siri House (“Jam”) in Dempsey by Thai luxury real estate developer San Siri is proof of the enduring appeal of small plates dining.
Set in the former space of the defunct The House at Dempsey, Jam shares the sprawling glass-backed digs with a showroom that transforms into an event space and an art gallery promoting the works of talented Thai artists.
Decorated eclectically with black and white Peranakan tiles set against a black lacquer backdrop with antiques juxtaposed against cusshy lounge chairs enlivened by splotches of handwoven Jim Thompson silk, Jam is as much a diner as it is a bar. Where you choose to sit, i.e. the marble topped kitchen counter or the bar, reflects your bearing and those who can’t decide will do well in the heart of the chandeliered dining room adjacent to both counters.
While beverage director and founder of Sunday Punch, Mark Tay, curates the drinks, former Lolla head chef and co-owner of Park Bench Deli, Tan Huang Ming, directs the Singapore talents-staffed open kitchen where the bill of fare is the array of taste-driven small plates.
Tan professes to like Chicken In A Biskit growing up, inevitably his favourite snack at Jam is his take on this snack, aptly named Chicken In A Biscuit ($12). Looking more like a cookie than a biscuit, Tan’s “biscuit” is actually chicken fat distilled into cookie served topped with spiced cream cheese. While it looks nothing like the Chicken In A Biskit that we know, it teems with the flavours of the commercially made biscuit and then some, thanks to the crispy bits of fried chicken skin.
Tan’s hasselback potatoes ($16) is as much an exercise in precision as it is wacky assembly of all things spicy and nice. The Russet potato is first steamed, then sliced and deep-fried such that its skin is crisp and insides fluffy. The layered potato arrives with a drizzle of “mala” mayo (mayo in Szechuan peppercorn oil) for that kick of spice, delicious cubes of beef lardons and Parmesan. Don’t miss it.
For his tuna tartare ($26), Tan eschews the endangered bluefin specie in favour of the yellowtail, which he ages and then cures in soy sauce, thereby lending the tuna with a good bite. The fish is cubed into fairly large chunks and served in burnt scallion oil with the scallions and horseradish (it was not discernible) and slices of green grapes so that the heady umami is cushioned with a whiff of sweet refreshment from the grapes.
If you have space for one more starter, consider the scallop carpaccio ($30) or the drunken Argentinean langoustino ($28), the latter a special-of-the-day from the chalkboard. Wild Hokkaido scallops are served carpaccio-style with yuzu, chopped truffle and kizami kombu dressing with a topping of Norwegian trout roe – delicious although not particularly unique. The Argentinian langoustino, on the other hand, is a winner. The body of the crustacran is dunked in boiling water and served in a brilliant pool of aged Shao Xing wine while its head is flash-fried to a crisp. This is one dish calling out for an encore.
You could well make a meal out of the small plates but you would be missing out on the cod ($38), which in my opinion, is the best dish in the house. The pan-roasted Chilean sea bass fillet, named cod on the menu, is lovely on its own but in the company of the shiitake mushroom dashi, gets elevated to a stratospheric realm. The asari clams that arrive with the cod are a bonus although I wouldn’t miss it.
The strong momentum takes a slight beating with the pappardelle ($33). The handmade fresh egg pasta is not as moist as the velvety sheets we’ve tasted elsewhere, we take part of the blame for waiting too long before we dig in. The plate is also let down by chewy rather than luscious smoked mussels although the gigantic pan roasted tiger prawns are worthy of praise. Notwithstanding that, the bisque-like reduced crustacean sauce of butter-roasted lobster and prawn heads enriched with cream is noteworthy, if a tad rich.
The pavlova ($17) dessert with yuzu curd, sour cream ice cream and citrus segments is a recipe destined for greatness, let-down only by a meringue that is way-too-sweet.
But with Tan in the house, these little “speed bumps” will soon be a thing of the past. If we may let you in on a little secret, be nice to Tan and he might just offer you have a taste of his off-the-charts beef fat pop corn.
8D Dempsey Rd, Dempsey Hill, #01-02, 249672; +65-9667 0533