The Black Swan
19 Cecil Street (The Quadrant)
Open 5pm to 11pm for dinner; open for supper 10.30pm to 1am from Monday to Thursday (2am on Friday/Saturday) Closed on Sunday
A BLACK swan may refer to an anomalous event, but there is nothing unexpected about the Lo & Behold Group's latest venture into the bar and dining arena after a relatively quiet spell. They are bar experts after all, so trust them to turn a storied landmark in the financial district into an oasis of cool.
If it's of interest to you, the Quadrant used to be the regional HQ of the Kwangtung Provincial Bank back in the 1930s, but for the layman, it's yet another old building made hip in the ongoing gentrification craze. And as proof that you can never have too many of them, The Black Swan has been packed since it opened some three weeks ago.
As far as makeovers go, this one is pretty impressive. In line with its name and location, there's a masculine, Gatsby-like air to the place with its high ceilings and low-hanging white lamps, and black and shiny decor scheme. Apart from greeters in frilly dresses, the senior servers - even the female ones - are decked out in coat and tie.
Happy hour does seem to be the happiest time as Shenton-ites descend after the stock market closes for the day, vacuuming special-priced champagne and oysters. The oyster bar features a good selection of briny to creamy shellfish from the US and France. On the day we are there, we get the daily special of fat and creamy Canadian rock oysters ($5 each) with a mellow, nutty finish.
The folk at Lo & Behold (Loof, The White Rabbit, Extra Virgin Pizza) are better at concepts than actual food, so it looks like they're making a special effort to break that stereotype with the help of consultant chef Sebastian Ng of Restaurant Ember fame. They're not breaking any new ground with the menu but, at least, the food is of a consistent quality.
The best palate-teasers would be the crostinis. Truffled egg and bacon confit ($14) turns out to be two soft-boiled eggs served in little cups, with bits of bacon and cream mixed into the runny yolk. Toasted soldiers are left on the side for you to dig up all that unctuous goodness.
Even if you're not partial to bone marrow because of the melted fat you're spooning up, the version here offers semi-solid marrow cut into little cubes and tossed with chilli, herbs and seaweed ($18) and arranged back in the marrow bone that's conveniently slit into half.
Deep-fried calamari ($19) makes for a great bar snack with the addictive popcorn-sized crunchy nuggets fried in a super-crisp batter with a kaffir lime-scented mayonnaise on the side. The shiso leaf tempura that graces the top of the pile turns out to be the best bit.
The mains, in turn, are well-executed if not terribly exciting. The burger ($26) is suitably juicy if a tad salty, done medium rare as requested and sits pretty between the buns and kissing a fried egg. Salty, streaky bacon is an unnecessary addition, while the thick-cut fries are not as crisp on the outside but cottony soft within.
Meanwhile, the so-so seafood pasta ($32) gets a herbal lift from rosemary and tarragon while tomatoes, wine and a fresh mixture of crunchy prawns, clams and squid round off the flavours. For dessert, date and toffee pudding ($14) may be old school but we enjoy it for the light texture of the pudding, caramelised banana slices and ice cream.
We are particularly impressed by the service, from the frilly-dressed greeters who welcome you and open the door when you leave, and the servers who are knowledgeable and polished, seeming to anticipate your needs and are more than just rote-learning drones.
Sure, it's still more of a bar than a serious restaurant, but given the amount of effort put into it and the welcoming vibe that comes through despite its poser looks, this swan sure has legs. If we wanted to punt, we would, in stock market parlance, call this a "buy".
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good