March 29, 2009
A new restaurant in Tanglin serves delightful food amid charming surroundings
By Wong Ah Yoke
If, like me, you are a little disenchanted with the overcrowded situation in the Dempsey restaurant enclave, here is some good news. You can find its former rustic charm in a new restaurant nearby.
Spruce was opened about three weeks ago by chef Travis Masiero, who used to run the kitchen at the Wine Garage, and a partner.
It is located just a five-minute drive from Dempsey in an old building in Phoenix Park off Tanglin Road.
Although it is by the main road, it is on top of a slope and shielded by trees. So you get a relaxed countryside feeling even though you are just a skip and a jump from the city.
The building itself has been, well, spruced up and a glass wall put in so that sunlight filters in during the day and diners can look out onto the greenery.
There is also outdoor seating under a porch with ceiling fans and it looked so inviting when I was there last week that I asked for a table outside instead of inside the air-conditioned room.
The place is totally charming and I like that it is not overdone to designer perfection.
Equally charming was the service during my dinner. The young waiters, who could not have much experience seeing that one of them was only 22 years old, did most things right.
They recommended dishes with confidence and asked a question one does not get to hear often: 'Would you like still or sparkling water, or tap?'
And they were so earnest when they asked for feedback that I easily forgave whatever tiny faults there were.
One of the mistakes was that my friend and I had both ordered starters, pastas as well as main courses, and the pastas and main courses were all served at the same time. So there were four big plates of food on the table running the risk of getting cold as we valiantly tried to taste everything at the same time.
And some of the dishes should never have to run that risk.
One of them was the sweet onion crepe with white truffle fonduta ($16) I had for a starter. The onion crepe on its own was not outstanding, being merely caramelised onions wrapped in a crepe like a popiah. But combined with the fonduta, it became something magical as the sweet onion and the savoury melted cheese played against each other. I did not quite taste white truffles but it did not matter. The dish was good.
From the pasta section, I liked the Bolognese ravioli with kurobuta pork, chilli and parmigiano ($22). What made this work was the pork, which was minced coarsely enough to have plenty of bite left in it.
That, too, was the secret behind the Spruce burger with hand-cut chips ($17). The beef patty had excellent texture, the result of not being minced too finely and you could taste the flavour of the Australian chuck.
It costs $19 with bacon. The bursts of flavour when I chewed into the salty bits were such a delight. The chips were good too, but the burger was definitely the star.
If you like chips, you should also try the crispy fish and chips with tartar sauce and roasted lemon ($23). The batter was a bit hard but it was crispy, and the snapper used was fresh and flaked beautifully.
As for the not-so-good dishes, a common problem was that they were under-salted.
The grilled squid with herbs, capsicum and preserved lemon oil ($17), for example, would have been much better if it had more dimensions to the flavour other than the lemony tartness.
And the mushroom risotto with truffled hen egg ($22) was rather bland. The rice was too mushy for me too.
Desserts were decent, especially the yogurt and buttermilk panna cotta ($12). It was like a firm, creamy yogurt and the crumble sprinkled on top was rather interesting.
Another great thing about Spruce is the prices. Other than a USDA prime striploin which costs $25 per 100g, the most expensive dish - steak frites - is only $29.
Also, the restaurant opens all day. And parking is free. Now, what more can you ask for?
The Spruce burger with hand-cut chips ($19)
One of the best burgers I have eaten. Splurge and pay the $2 for the bacon. It is worth it.
320 Tanglin Road, tel: 6836-5528
Open: 10.30am to 10.30pm (Mondays to Fridays), 8.30am to 10.30pm (Saturdays and Sundays)
Food: *** 1/2
Service: *** 1/2
Ambience: *** 1/2
Price: Budget from $50 a person