The Mitchell Lin Guide: Cheek by Jowl

A re-review of that hip “modern Aussie” restaurant
by JUNK
Mitchell LinSeptember 28, 2018
Looking for a second opinion on that Michelin-starred restaurant people won’t stop talking about? Introducing the Mitchell Lin Guide, where JUNK re-reviews Singapore’s Michelin-rated dining establishments. 100% local. 100% honest.

Restaurant

Cheek by Jowl

 Cuisine

“Modern Australian”

What Mitchell Lin says...

“Well-executed cooking that manages to be both accessible and inventive. You can enjoy a meal here without worrying that the chef is going pile on tricks, all in the name of reputation-making.”

Best for…

Easy vibes, great food.

Worst for…

People who must find something to dislike.

The Food

We started off wary… Impressively, it’s a full house on a Monday night. And seven courses at $118. It all seems too reasonable, too promising. We can’t let our expectations get too high.

After some snacks, we rolled into an appetiser of an Oyster with Smoked Tomato Granita. The icy cold granita was full of rich smokiness and full-bodied tomato flavour. A fitting end to the oyster’s life and a cold appetizer actually served cold. Other restaurants please take note.

A Confit of Octopus with Chervil and Black Garlic Purée arrived next. With its distinctive texture, octopus tends to dominate, so while it was delicious, it turned out as expected. More importantly, the quality and reliability of the dish felt like a pair of safe hands guiding us into the rest of the meal – we found ourselves settling in, and letting our guards down a little bit.

Which made the Venison Tartar with Picked Walnuts and Zucchini that followed all the more unexpected. While this dish was perhaps a bit over-dressed, it was very satisfying for the way that your teeth first sank through the chunky pieces of raw venison and then found the more nibbly slices of par-cooked zucchini. Food the mouth remembers, not so much the tongue. Intriguing.

Next, we were served Roasted Quail with Ceps and Chestnut Purée. There are shades of old-school cooking here; our first bite of the pink-cooked quail took us back to a time when fine dining was a bit more honest and straightforward; less wrapped up in its own tropes and trends. Covered in a lovely pan-seared crust, the quail was densely gamey, salty, oily and completely delicious. To offset it – fresh mint and the sour bite of pickled cucumber shavings.

The Barramundi with Corn and Broccolini that followed was a fantastic chaser for the rich, meaty quail. The mild, tender barramundi and the brightness of the sweet corn niblets come together to leave delicate vanilla notes dancing around the end of your nose, while the charred broccoli add an earthy smoke to the dish.

The second round of snacks arrived just before the final main. First, a chewy cheese ball that reminded us of a pão de queijo – a.k.a. those Brazilian cheese bread-mochi things. The cheese ball came dusted with nostril-bothering sweet paprika and an espuma of 14-month-old Comte. Stop press. This is cheese on cheese. We could eat this all night, so… we had double servings. Alongside that delight, a cob of corn, cooked in a fermented chilli paste and rolled in crunchy, puffed millet. Sweet, spicy, crackling corn. Snack success.

Then, to finish the mains, we had a Pork Tenderloin with Apple Purée and Caramelized Kohlrabi. After surreptitiously googling “kohlrabi”, we found space in our rapidly filling bellies for sweet pork, tart apple sauce, and the caramelly kohlrabi (it’s a German turnip). An elegant segue into dessert.

Though the menu advertised seven courses, we were served two desserts. Extra food – that’s a trick you can always use to win us over. First, we tucked into the Pickled Pear with Pear Sorbet and Goat Cheese Parfait. Remarkably, it came across as a cold “haw flake”-flavoured dish – probably unintended, but an entirely lovely result.

The final dessert of Liquorice Pudding with Blackberry Sorbet and Coconut Cream could have been a risky choice to close to the meal, but the warm pudding turned out to have a comfortingly dense texture – similar to that of “huat kueh”. And while thankfully not too overwhelming, the liquorice had a light saccharine sweetness that mingled pleasantly with the blackberry sorbet, bringing the meal to a very delicate, botanical end.

The Extras

Ambience

Cheek by Jowl’s only black mark is probably the interior. It feels left over from a previous tenant. The distressed brick wall and subway tiles want to be casual, with, but then the metal pipe chandelier over the bar wants to be steampunk, and the potted plants want to be twee. Hey! Get in touch, we know designers who can fix your place! Otherwise, it’s a fairly generic restaurant that does not feel uptight. The acoustics here are a bit hard, but keep the space feeling lively.

Overheard

*An Englishman with a public school accent speaking in a slow drawl to a friend who visiting him from out of town* “Meta… it’s like… this trendy hole-in-the-wall… serving like… Japanese… Korean… -influenced food.”
*Ang mo helping to take a photo, demonstrating he is well- localized* “Yi… errr… san… sirrr… *click* OK, perfect.”

Service

Excellent. There is one senior personality who clearly and reliably leads communications for the evening. The other wait staff are unobtrusive and get about their work with minimum fuss.

Price

$$$$$

This is good value for the cooking on offer. Wine can be a bit on the pricy side but was delicious to drink

 

A gratifying granita – icy cold and full of flavour.

Beautifully presented and wonderfully textured.

Sourness from the pickle... freshness from the mint... all very well thought-out.

Looks unassuming but sent us into rhapsodies of joy.

Cheese! Give us all the cheese.

What is kohlrabi? Turns out, it's something delicious.

Liquorice for the anti-liquorice folk.

 
 

Photos taken with the Huawei P20 Pro.


 
 

Read the rest of the Mitchell Lin Guide here.

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