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Cryptic combos with the chimes and codes
Steamroom with The Pillar and Stones
181 Orchard Road
#03-08 Orchard Central
Tel: 6592 0571
Open daily from 10am to 10pm
BEHIND a name like Steamroom with The Pillar and Stones must be a brilliant concept. We don't know what it is, but damn if we don't figure it out before we finish our meal.
First, who gives a restaurant - sorry, a multi-purpose concept that includes the sale of clothes, exotic teas and a dining menu with a very flexible definition of modern seasonal cuisine - such a cryptic name just because they felt like it?
It must be a code, developed by a high-minded ex-hacker using an algorithm that picks out words according to their rhythm, rare use in everyday language but when put together could unlock secrets that have eluded mankind for centuries. Imagine them leaving something as important as a code name to someone like us and risk being called "Green, leafy and near the lift".
Which is exactly how we find Steamroom - take the lift at Orchard Central and come out onto a sparse third floor where one end is flanked by Uniqlo and the other is marked out with glass cubes, potted plants and scattered seating that looks a little like an airport waiting area.
Tinkling windchimes crank up our imagination even more as we settle into green upholstered seats with curved sticks for backrests that barely qualify as chairs rather than stools. The windchimes sound vaguely Thai, but with a sinister tone as if sending a subliminal message into our brains to make us do something dastardly after dessert.
We desperately try to tune out the tinkling and focus on the menu enough to order starters such as Angus Beef Tartare (S$16) and Spanner Crab Salad (S$15).
The beef tartare arrives so heavily disguised we wonder if it's been assigned to infiltrate a pescatarian restaurant dressed like a tuna salad. The beef - which may or may not be raw because there is no familiar sight of red meat - is chopped up and tossed in so much mustard or whatever creamy dressing that it looks like grey flakes of canned tuna, covered with minced chives, mustard seeds and toasted bread slivers. It tastes vaguely like raw beef, but what makes it go down easily are the thick slices of buttery, toasted sourdough that are the best thing we eat the entire meal.
The crab in the crab salad, meanwhile, clearly has been removed from its shell a long time ago, lived in a can that has been open and left in the fridge, before being tossed with some mayonnaise and hidden under the cover of toasted croutons and dehydrated green apple. We try not to be too well-acquainted with the crab and ask the server to please take it away.
Hot food sends a more effective message that the young chefs in the open kitchen are putting some effort into preparing a decent meal, but are hampered by not-so-good recipes.
Coal-smoked red snapper (S$28) is a valiant attempt to infuse flavour into a bland fillet - it's slightly overcooked, but wears a lovely crisp skin, served with a side of cheesy green parsley risotto, lots of healthy roasted broccolini and artichoke crisps on top. A drizzle of lobster bisque appears out of nowhere like an uninvited guest, so just ignore it and it'll be okay.
We understand the bisque connection better with the next main we order - Lobster Fregola Sarda Pasta (S$28) where chewy pearls of pasta are bathed in a creamy, cheesy bisque with a generous portion of crab meat whose freshness is less debatable in its mask of thick seafood broth. It's heavy-going but not unpleasant, although the monotony of flavours does catch up with you.
But it is better than the 2015L Slider (S$19) - a code name for a faux burger where a dense, pasty-textured pretzel bun is sandwiched with pulled pork drenched in an odd, sickly-sweet barbecue sauce that makes us wish for an undisguised beef in a bun with ketchup. The upside of this are addictive potato chips - scoop-shaped wedges deep-fried to achieve crunch on the ends and pillowy soft potato in the middle.
For dessert, our friendly server recommends his favourite: chocolate gateau with mandarin orange sorbet (S$14) - your garden-variety store-bought ganache and cookie crust confection paired with mouth-puckering sorbet.
An opening discount of 20 per cent helps take the edge off our seating discomfort, inconsistent food (but rather nice teas) and the aural fatigue of incessant, kling-klong Thai-esque wind chimes.
We still can't figure out what the whole purpose behind Steamroom with The Pillar and Stones, so we can only concede our failure as code-breakers. But if we may offer a tip on cracking the not-so-big-mystery behind good food - getting the basics right is a good start.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.