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The English House by Marco Pierre White
Before we begin, let’s have a quote from the man himself.
“I think what you got to do is to create an environment which people wish to sit in. You have to create a menu which is interesting to people. You have to create food which is delicious and affordable. I think that’s what’s important. And you have to hope that people choose to spend their hard-earned income at your business. There’s no guarantees. Because remember, restaurateurs are only shopkeepers, that’s all we are. It’s no different from the supermarket down the road.”
That bit of wisdom comes from Marco Pierre White’s Channel News Asia interview a few months back, speaking to his philosophy of – we guess – raw authenticity, humble homeliness, simplicity and anti-gimmick restauranting.
Keep that in mind as we go on.
We were in a party of three, so we ordered some dishes to share. After promising us the servings were generous and enough for sharing, we were recommended the stuffed cabbage, an omelette, and the Delmonico steak. At this point, we clucked and paused for thought as we deliberated… the $98 fish and chips? One look around the table at each other and we decided to go for it. Since we were sharing, we thought, why not indulge/spread the hurt?
The Arnold Bennett Omelette arrived first and presented itself as a pale, custardy, gratinated pile of slop on a flat dinner plate. Hmmmm… After politely under-portioning a bit of it for each of ourselves (Asian, well brought up) and having a mouthful, someone at the table let slip, “Isn’t this the dorm food that we used to make when we were drunk?” Someone else agreed and we all continued to eat in silence.
To be fair, it would have been dorm food – if your tiny dorm fridge happened to have crème fraiche, lovely smoked haddock and gruyere cheese. And while it was incredibly unsexy to look at, the texture of the smoked haddock hidden underneath had that sort of lightness that is very foreign to our Asian tongues when it comes to fish, and successfully imparted a delicate contrast to the creaminess of the rest of the dish.
From one unsexy dish to another – the Stuffed Cabbage arrived next, almost looking defiantly unappetising in a tight, turgid ball on a plate of tomato sauce. If you are hoping for visual spectacle here, expect to be disappointed. The lifeless, translucent cabbage looked as if it had been cooked to within an inch of its life. After cutting it apart, it appeared to be stuffed with luncheon meat(!). Despite the uncanny resemblance, it wasn’t luncheon meat, but was still a type of mystery meat ball with hints of anchovy, which actually worked well with the light tomato sauce. Better than the dorm room eggs perhaps, but by this point in the meal, “elevated” English cooking really did need to lift its skirt and get moving.
Then, the $98 Fish and Chips.
Understandably, with such an eyebrow-raising price, we were very keen to see what the hell we would be served. Despite being assured that everything we ordered would be suitable for sharing, after the plate was slid onto the table, we all could not help but baulk at the size of the fish. Fuck, it was small (for sharing). A very normal-sized cut of fillet. At $98, Marco, give us the whole fucking fillet. No, give us the whole fish, and then the one next to it, and the next. Actually, send the whole school in.
After we had adjusted to that slap in the face, we ate, and we conceded that it was a lovely piece of fish, perfectly cooked. The golden batter had the right amount of crisp and bounce. Again, The lightness of the delicately sweet fish flaked in the way only a fresh piece of cold-water white fish could, and granted, it is quite hard to get GOOD FISH & CHIPS in Singapore. It really is.
As if in compensation, the other items that came with the fish read as luxuriously over-specced on the menu: beef-fat chips, marrow-fat mushy peas, and a chunky, creamy, and suitably tangy tartare sauce. All attempted to offer a modicum of sophistication, but did so unconvincingly.
So what’s that about restaurateurs being shopkeepers? And what’s that about our hard-earned incomes? OK. We only had ourselves to blame. This was not a surprise $500 Newton hawker centre bill. We let ourselves in on the joke and got the rug pulled from under us, on cue. Ha ha. Funny. Next.
Compared to the fish and chips, our last sharing main of the Grilled Delmonico Steak of Black Angus seemed like relatively “good value” at $145. There was a sigh of relief when the platter arrived as the food was of an amount that we could actually share comfortably, and what we got was a perfectly done rib-eye steak on a serving plate with wonderful potatoes roasted in beef fat, and grilled vine ripened tomatoes at their peak of sweetness. The produce and execution was exceptional, but more importantly our concerns that the chef was just having a laugh were tempered somewhat. This was a good portion of food and much more honest and more knowingly crafted than a steak from Wolfgang’s across the road.
We were unexpectedly full by the end of the meal and we decided to close it off by sharing a single Eton Mess, which we agreed was perhaps the best we’ve ever eaten. Simply because it ticked all the boxes, and had no dick-headed twist to it. Ripe strawberries, the right type of light, crisp meringue, and lashings of cream over ice cream. Lovely.
Read the rest of the Mitchell Lin Guide here.
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