Having a ridiculously long list of restaurants we want to try, we’re always keen to get groups of friends together to help us work through them. With this in mind we’ve started a monthly ‘Supper Club’. Last night was the inaugural event, and so it was that 20 of us turned up at the first restaurant of choice, ‘Cheek by Jowl’ on Boon Tat Street near Telok Ayer.
It’s a small restaurant, but with a big front window opening onto the pavement, and so we milled about there whilst waiting for the full party to arrive. We also discovered the reason for the restaurant’s name; Cheek by Jowl meaning ‘side by side’, referring to the husband and wife partnership in the kitchen and front of house. A great sentiment to set the tone. I was greeted immediately by the wife of said partnership (she didn’t reveal whether she was the cheek or the jowl), Manuela Toniolo, who had been nothing but efficient and charming all throughout my process of booking such a large group. Drinks orders were swiftly taken and we enjoyed our aperitifs with no pressure to take our seats despite being an hour later than I’d estimated (lots of people, a bit like herding cats).
When we did sit down, our 2 tables of 10 took up the majority of the restaurant, but the other 2-3 tables were also full and so the atmosphere was lively and buzzy yet relaxed with the ability to catch a glimpse of the chefs hard at work at the open kitchen at the back.
With the priority of wine taken care of (great wine list of Australian & NZ origin only), we then took our pick from the set menu. Being such a large group a set menu makes perfect sense, but we certainly didn’t feel restricted since there was still choice of meat, fish and vegetarian options. The beauty of group dining means you also get to see it all, and with generous (tolerant) friends, try it all too.
Cheek by Jowl is labelled ‘modern Australian’. I couldn’t really tell you what that meant. Turns out that’s because it’s inherently indistinct; when I googled the term it’s essentially a mish mash and collision of cultures, international or ‘fusion’. So, anything goes. But what I can tell you is that chef Rishi Naleendra makes really good food, however you label it. And yes, it’s contemporary and international. It’s also really pretty.
I went for a starter of venison tartare which was absolutely delicious, on a bed of a puree that was both creamy and offered a wasabi kick, with a layer of paper thin zucchini and slight sweet sharpness from fermented plum.
Chris chose the ocean trout which was melt in the mouth soft, slightly sweet from the yuzu, creamy from the buttermilk to perfectly set off the delicate fish. TOC (The Other Couple, see Angeleno review) sat opposite us and The Captain chose the vegetarian option of beetroot with goats cheese and horseradish. A classic flavour combo, well executed with soft creamy goats cheese not too overpowering.
My main was the barramundi. A perfectly cooked piece of fish with leeks and caramelized onions, a rich sweet onion puree. It also had bonito butter, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, but that’s just personal taste, I find it a bit pungent and to me it tainted the lovely oniony taste. Chris had the lamb shoulder which he loved, succulent and rich in flavour with beautifully fresh peas and sweet parsnip puree. TOC (selfishly) didn’t order the vegetarian main of pumpkin with cashew nuts and kale for us to try, but I heard someone down at the other end of the table did and it seemed to go down well. The tomato side dish was a triumph & much more interesting than I expected – tomatoes were served with beautiful creamy whipped parmesan mousse and a parmesan & macadamia nut crumble. And we also had mini jacket potatoes with sour cream and chives to soak up the rather large amount of wine that was being consumed.
A little place-swapping and mingling before the desserts arrived. One was a rhubarb and ginger dish with caramel and white chocolate, it was sharp and sweet and fruity and spicy all together. The other was named ‘Coconut’ which was a little misleading as the dominant flavour was the intriguing laksa leaf ice cream, then the pomelo and a hint of chilli. It was really interesting, and refreshing to round off the meal.
The service was brilliantly attentive and with wine in full flow throughout, conversation was too. We can safely say the first supper club was a success, helped by a great choice of first venue.
Cheek by Jowl, 21 Boon Tat Street, Singapore