Saturday, 20 September, 2014

Published June 30, 2014
Crafted menu to warm the heart
Pluck shows spunk in its deliberate lack of theme and down-to-earth hospitality, writes JAIME EE
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Lashings of verve: Chef Brandon Teo puts his stint at Keong Saik Snacks and his own travels to good use in a menu that's a mash-up of culinary styles and techniques - and pulled off with polish. His dishes include include banana malt honey, curry- roasted cauliflower, pork neck with roasted chestnuts (above) and belly of suckling pig. - PHOTOS: PLUCK RESTAURANT

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90 Club Street

Tel: 6225-8286

Open Mon to Thurs: 9am to 12am; Fri: 10am to 1am; Sat: 5pm to 1am. Closed on Sun

IT'S been a while since we had actual fun in a restaurant. Something with a bit of a neighbourly feel but located in town; that offers a reality check in a sea of overly wrought concepts; where the food is smart without chefs having to be all precious about it; a come-as-you-are approach where everybody really is welcome.

We don't know what they put into the cranberry juice that comes as part of its excellent value $17.80 two-course lunch at Pluck, but we would say drink up and enjoy the down-to-earth hospitality of this eatery that will change your mind about Club Street being a culinary-challenged zoo of cocktail-hungry posers.

Pluck is appealing for its sheer lack of theme, although the long counter seating in front of the open-concept kitchen does, at least, put it into the "got style" category. Would be nice if they had more and better tables, though, instead of just two rather functional and almost grudging nods to those who like having their feet on the ground.

Still, the easy-going manner of the knowledgeable manager who does lunch duty, and the camaraderie/spontaneity of chef Brandon Teo and his team (they even photo-bomb your attempt to take a picture of the restaurant) sets the scene for a breezy lunch that lifts any original trepidation we have. Chef Teo puts his stint at Keong Saik Snacks and his own travels to good use in a menu that's an unabashed mash-up of culinary styles and techniques but pulled together with polish.

He takes pains to offer value and creativity in his bargain set lunch, rather than just offer the obligatory cheap pasta. We're impressed with the potent, creamy brew of emulsified mushrooms (despite an awkward-shaped bowl) served with a large slice of warm and crunchy, lovingly toasted sourdough that's evenly slicked with olive oil.

The main courses are adaptations of the a la carte, in that slightly cheaper ingredients are used to justify the low cost. But the manner of preparation and flavour is easily a la carte quality. Common tilapia, for example, gets the luxury treatment with crisp pan-seared edges bathed in creamy emulsion that is over-salted by capers, but offset by baby potatoes, regular broccoli and the dehydrated version as a welcome special touch.

The pork belly is rendered as meaty medallions with little fat, simple brown sauce and straighforward garnish of potatoes and grilled asparagus, which are again slightly salty. Top marks, however, go to the corn-fed chicken which is delivered as impeccably juicy portions of breast meat, starring beside potato gnocchi that exchange stodginess for a perfect chewy bite. Add kailan and a simple sauce and you're set for the rest of the work day.

But don't deprive yourself of other highlights from the a la carte menu. Not everything is available at lunch (obviously they keep the best for a more leisurely dinner) but we are sold on the 18-hour slow-cooked pork neck ($22) that releases its gristle and yields easily to your knife and fork. Sweet potato puree, spinach and a sticky sweet balsamic reduction with a slight acid kick balance off the whole combination.

We're a little less enamoured of the somewhat dry seared scallops ($18), although we're taken with the intiguing sauce of potato dashi - Japanese dashi cooked with potato skins for thickening - and the way the salty sweet flavours of apples, bacon and hazelnuts play off one another.

But we really like the curry-roasted cauliflower ($14), where the tender-crisp spice-dusted florets are turned into crunchy tempura with a crisp batter, sweetened with plump raisins and a creamy sauce.

The same crunch extends to the goreng pisang-like dessert of bananas, malt and honey ($12) - where a toffee-like caramelised crust encircles the buttery banana, served with tiny meringues and malt ice cream. Torn chocolate sponge pieces, meanwhile, are paired with crisp meringue wafer, sweetened chestnuts and gula melaka ice cream as part of the set lunch dessert ($5 top up), and from the a la carte menu, dainty olive sponge cubes, strawberries and creme fraiche ($14) add up to a quirky deconstruction of strawberry short cake. The ritz cracker ice cream is pleasant enough, but there's little of the salty cracker taste. In fact, all three ice creams we sample seem to share a common Horlicks flavour profile.

While there is a tendency for the dishes to start resembling one another after a while, with the use of similar base sauces and style of presentation, there's much to be said about Pluck's ability to craft a strong product without bending to the whims and styles of the day.

It's all about having the courage of one's convictions, and shall we say, pluck?


Rating: 7


    10: The ultimate dining experience

9-9.5: Sublime

8-8.5: Excellent

7-7.5: Good to very good

6-6.5: Promising

5-5.5: Average