CHIC Mod-Oz restaurant Cheek by Jowl is the latest to arrive at the hip and trendy food and drink haven in Telok Ayer.
Nestled in the heart of the central business district, in an area that has become the playground for the well-heeled and sharply dressed who descend from the surrounding offices at the stroke of six for after work dinners and drinks.
Naturally, it has become a stage for any restaurateur to strut their stuff and get noticed.
With a plethora of dining options in every direction, it does seem a little ‘more of the same’ in terms of offering. But that hasn’t stopped Chef Rishi Naleendra from whipping up an eclectic menu of delectable dishes.
Hailing from Australia, Naleendra has been due his own restaurant for a while it would seem, having paid his dues in Sydney at the world renowned Tetsuya’s and then later at the award-winning Yellow by Brent Savage, before taking up a Head Chef position at the local modern European restaurant MACA.
Catering To Local Buds
At Cheek by Jowl, Naleendra offers up the Chef’s Menu ($88), which consists of four snacks and five courses, which promised to excite with two special off-menu items.
It got off to an impressive start with the pre-meal amuse bouche — served one at a time with great attention to detail and presentation.
The whole fried baby potato cut the starchiness with a tangy chive dressing and a smoked eel surprise stuffed inside and the sweet date jam was an excellent accompaniment to the rich chicken liver parfait in a pastry cigar.
A quail egg wrapped in deep fried pastry followed, and along came a Canadian oyster topped with smoked tomato granita that was good enough to eat on its own.
The Smoked Mackerel ($22) with horseradish, picked cucumber, and green pea juice was excellently balanced — the smokiness of the fish combined swimmingly with the tartness of the cucumber and mellow heat of horseradish. The dish was generously sprinkled with pungent powdered burnt lemon, which added yet another layer to the flavour profile.
The Slow Cooked Lamb Tongue (off-menu) was however a little more gamey than expected, maybe an acquired taste, but was fork tender and palatable with the accompanying herbed yoghurt and endive.
The pan-fried Barramundi ($32) was the star of the show — the skin was crisp and golden brown while the flesh was juicy and succulent. The leek, braised in soy and cherry, was a tad overpowering but the creamy bonito butter more than made up for that.
A Roasted Pork Chop (off-menu) rounded out the savoury courses, with coffee roasted carrots and burnt apple puree. With the second use of the burnt technique, Chef Naleendra explains that it was his creative way of compensating for not using a traditional gas hob in his kitchen to produce the seared, charred, and roasted flavours. I wasn’t a fan of the burnt apple, but there were clearly many as I heard an impressed patron loudly accost the maître d’ for the recipe and cooking method.
The meal ended with Coconut ice-cream ($15) — it was cool and soothing as expected but the accompanying laksa leaf ice cream was a refreshing surprise. Unfortunately, the green chilli and mint sauce was a little out of place atop the dessert.
While Cheek by Jowl offers a couple of interesting new interpretations and creative takes on its menu, there is little that differentiates it from the competition.
As the name suggests they are cheek by jowl with a dizzying array of eateries for one to explore, enough to try a new place every night out. You will never be low on options at the Telok Ayer enclave packed full of creative cocktails and delicious degustation.
That said, what they do, they do very well. And prices are competitive too — for what is almost fine dining cuisine. If you lean that way, Chef Naleendra also does vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free tasting menus on the fly.
If you don’t want to jump in for a full-blown dinner, the lunchtime menu is definitely worth a look. Priced from $30 – $58 (two to five courses), it offers great value for (a selection of) essentially the same dishes!
Cheek By Jowl
21 Boon Tat Street