49 Keong Saik Road
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Fri: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10.30pm. Brunch from 11am to 3pm Sat and Sun. Closed on Monday
WHEN you were young and mischievous, did your parents ever tell you to stop playing around and just grow up?
Someone must have said the same thing to Keong Saik Snacks - which has traded in its playful demeanour and frivolous menu of hot dogs and lobster rolls for a more mature vibe as reflected in its new name, The Study. It's meant to complement its sister bar The Library, but The Study has a more bookish approach to its food, with a menu that kicks off like a school text: An Introduction to British Cooking. And who better to helm the lesson but consultant Brit chef Jason Atherton, who has put his name to this and other gastro-spots in Singapore such as Esquina and Pollen.
Impressive vintage tomes on the wall-mounted bookshelves aside, it's hard to put your finger on exactly what The Study is. Visually, the original diner concept was perfect for the tiny space with its cramped tables and young, anything-goes vibe that was a bigger draw than the fact that it didn't serve "real" food. Now that it's attempting a bit more gravitas, the same cramped space and well-worn red banquette doesn't quite have the same cool factor.
Perhaps, it's better at night when it's darker, you see less, and The Study becomes a more logical dining extension of The Library. It's a different story in the daytime though, when the bar is dead and every little detail is up for scrutiny. You end up wondering: Does swopping squeezy ketchup and mustard bottles for wine glasses make a snack bar grow up?
This is one time where substance trumps style, because The Study offers a well-curated roster of English grub classics (and Italian influences) at manageable prices. Especially at lunch time, when its three-course $35 set is a steal considering it comprises many of the same dishes on the a la carte menu.
On the day of our visit, a simple but refreshing heirloom tomato salad is generous in both firm, chunky tomato wedges and the creamy pesto dressing they're tossed in, with pine nuts for added crunch. Nothing groundbreaking but the simple pesto has the requisite balance of oil, cheese and herbs that add enough seasoning and contrast against the mild tomatoes.
A better choice would be the crunchy grilled asparagus arranged over crunchy, sweet shredded beetroot and creamy-chewy burrata, everything bound together by a discreet hazelnut dressing. Nothing jars this harmonious medley of crunch, sweetness and mellow creamy mouth feel, topped off by an airy, whisper-thin crispbread.
The day's special of scotch egg ($18) is a picture-perfect runny-yolked, hard-boiled egg encased in sausage meat and deep-fried, and would have tasted perfect if not for the unexpected vinegary tang in the minced meat mixture.
For the mains, the ugliest-looking dish turns out to be the best: beautifully braised ox cheek ($32 on the a la carte menu but which is part of the set lunch) in full gelatinous glory paired with tender tongue that retains a firm but yielding bite, on smooth potato mash. Less successful is the fried snapper used in the fish and chips, with a dry and stringy texture which doesn't do justice to the light crisp batter. The $30 a la carte version comes with duck fat chips but our set lunch version makes do with skinny fries. A side portion of the duck fat chips ($9) is a must, though. The fowl's fat sure makes a difference in boosting the flavour and texture of the tender, mealy wedges.
Also getting short shrift is the roast pork belly and braised pork cheek ($32) - glistening chunks of wobbly fat, tender meat and nicely broiled skin that's so salty it's as if a kitchen assistant accidentally knocked over the salt container when the chef wasn't looking. A shame, since it would have tasted so good with the right seasoning, along with the also over-salted white bean cassoulet. We wouldn't miss the pork cheek if the assistant nicks it the next time, though.
Despite the ifs and buts of the savoury section, desserts are faultless all the way through. From the light puffballs that are cinnamon, sugar-dusted doughnuts served with caramel cream ($13) to the perfect moist-crisp, cakey Bakewell tart with sour cherries and the predictable but comforting chocolate lava cake, you really do need room for these.
A dessert bar could well be its fallback should The Study fail its current test, but going by its strong foundation, we think it deserves more than a passing grade.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good