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A stronger foundation needed for The Mason's Table
The Masons Table
23A Coleman Street
Tel: 9127 5030
Open Mon to Fri: 11.30am to 9.45pm.
Sat: 3pm to 9.45pm. Closed on Sun
SERVERS say the darndest things.
"What kind of food is this?" We ask, as we pore over a menu that swings from Sriracha chicken wings to confit duck leg.
"It's modern European cuisine," comes the reply. "But you have pizza." "Yes, that too."
Before that, we'd stumbled into this cavernous dining space, inadvertently blurting out, "the restaurant is empty" to a couple of startled staffers quietly chatting at the bar. "Yes," one of them agrees.
It's all part of a rather surreal dining experience at The Masons Table, which has the retro feel of a 70s hotel coffee/steakhouse and the ominous vibe of Opus Dei. After all, it's located in the Freemason building in Coleman Street, which begs all kinds of Da Vinci Code references, accuracy notwithstanding.
But for us, the real mystery is why the folks at The Masons Table took upon themselves the unenviable task of filling such a huge space without much of a catchment area to speak of. Or even a clear cut concept.
There's a bit of French bistro here, pizza there, sandwiches for lunch and bar bites for anytime. We're all for inclusiveness but we'll pick quality over variety anytime.
Unfortunately, The Masons Table has some clear challenges to deal with. A huge space requires a high turnover, which forces you to be all things to as many people as you can. But when you don't have that volume of business, it's not cost-effective to keep a lot of premium and perishable ingredients in stock. So, if they know it's going to be a slow night like ours (with just another two tables filled later on), do they spend a lot of money on ingredients that will go to waste if we don't order them, or make do with whatever they have on hand?
So if they tossed a coin that night, we lost.
We start off with the highly recommended bitteballen (S$12) - a Dutch-origin bar bite that is a relative of the croquette. But while croquettes of the world have evolved into tasty bechamel fillings surrounded by a crackling crunchy crumb crusts, the bitteballen is like the crazy relative usually locked up in the family dungeon which escapes to shatter that carefully crafted image.
Bitteballen is by definition a beef croquette, but in reality it's a ball of nasty gluey paste with squishy texture and beef flavour you can only guess at.
If the servers sense our bitterness over these ballens (when we leave it almost untouched) they do nothing about it. Nor do they offer anything apart from a slight concern at our antipathy towards the soup of the day (S$10) - carrots blended into a puree and spiced with a hint of cumin. This is baby food territory, and we finally understand why infants keep wanting to spit out their dinner. But we do find some solace in the buttermilk fried mushrooms (S$12) where mixed fungi are deep fried in batter like vegetarian chicken nuggets, covered in a shower of grated parmesan cheese.
Since we are ravenous after a missed lunch, we dig into the parma ham and rocket pizza (S$24)even though it's more like a salad on top of a lukewarm paper plate made of compressed cream crackers.
The confit duck leg (S$26) is crisp-skinned and pull-apart tender, even if the flesh itself is dry and stringy. A salad on the side gets a boost from a sweet citrusy dressing.
The day's special is wagyu burger (S$26) - a densely packed patty cooked medium rare to request is set between a moist, tender toasted bun, served with handcut chips that look so flaccid and downtrodden we don't know whether to eat them or cheer them up.
On the one hand, there's a lot to fault The Masons Table for - a cheerless ambience, directionless food cooked with little enthusiasm, and servers with little skill at service recovery (when a diner leaves food untouched it's not because they're full). But on the other hand - there's also empathy for the challenges they face with spotty demand and a difficult location. The pricing is reasonable, and the space is conducive for big functions (or pagan rituals).
The Masons Table could do with a stronger foundation. Once it builds on that,the rest will fall into place.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: The Business Times 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.