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Bistro food with a star touch
21 Boon Tat Street
Tel: 6221 1911
Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Fri: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10pm. Dinner only on Sat: 6pm to 10.30pm.Closed on Sun.
THE name has been changed to Cheek but it's still very much a Cheek by Jowl affair at this newly revamped bistro by chef Rishi Naleendra and his wife Manuela Toniolo.
While the name doesn't come with a Michelin star anymore, the couple still cast a sheen over the Boon Tat Street eatery, going by the enthusiastic crowd of mostly regulars and industry types who've come to check out the new look and menu.
The Naleendras are only here for the transition though, as they're waiting for their new, fine-dining space on Amoy Street - and no doubt a future Michelin contender - to be ready in a few months' time. When that happens, the current kitchen team led by head chef Jay Teo will continue running the operations.
But for now, it looks like status quo with Chef Naleendra in the kitchen, and Manuela leading the floor service with her easy-going Aussie hospitality.
The space is crammed - and you feel it especially when all the tables are filled and you're almost forced to walk crab-like through the narrow passage that leads to the bathroom. But it's also a pleasant, genial space that's easy on the eye with no distinctive design touches - basically an unobtrusive backdrop that allows Chef Naleendra's cooking to assert itself.
Cheek is a little more upscale than you expect - although it's designed to be casual, comfort food without the fine touches and tasting menus of before, this is not a place for a burger or a healthy grain bowl. There's steak and fries (sold separately) but it's the most expensive item on the menu, starting at S$68.
The menu is smallish but well-curated, covering snacks to smallish sharing plates to larger main courses. Pricing can be a little on the high side, so make sure your eyes aren't bigger than your stomach.
If you're going for the chef's trademark smoked tomato granita over oysters (S$6 each) we recommend you order one au naturele as well so you can enjoy the briny, minerally flavour of the small Brittany oyster on its own first. Otherwise, it's like a search-and-rescue mission to locate the little critter under the avalanche of icy, refreshing tomato snow which is great on its own but tends to overwhelm the delicate shellfish.
What we can't get enough of are the beautiful warm, crisp-fluffy waffles (S$6) that are perfectly baked, cut into triangles and topped with generous swirls of either light-as-air whipped ricotta topped with mustard seeds, or more robust creamy chicken liver parfait. There should be a petition to have giant versions of these waffles added to the dessert menu, with copious amounts of ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Cured trout (S$24) is a smooth fillet with a silky, gravlax-like texture and a crunch from its coating of dehydrated black olives and breadcrumbs. An earthy, tahini-like almond cream and a shaved fennel salad with a good shot of acidity cuts through the richness of the trout.
It clears the palate for our next favourite dish - sticky, jammy, pull-apart tender lamb ribs (S$25) with a satisfying charred crust. There's a bit of Greek/Mediterranean influence with the chef's penchant for mezze-like accompaniments such as the smoky eggplant puree with a blob of mint oil for accent and decoration. It helps to ease the guilt of the fat-laden ribs - at least enough for you to gnaw off every bit of meat you can.
Salt and acidity are part of chef Naleendra's cooking DNA, so these two flavours tend to dominate in some of the dishes. If your palate isn't tuned in that direction, you may well find yourself downing more fruity kombuchas and shrub-infused sodas than you plan to.
Spears of marinated artichokes (S$18) are perfectly fried in a light crunchy batter, and set in a bed of hummus with bits of feta cheese - the lively zing of feta and artichoke jolt you awake, while a watercress salad in a sweet dressing calms things down a bit.
A 200gm hunk of Rangers Valley rib eye (S$68) arrives fiercely charred on the outside and fittingly medium-rare on the inside, offering equal mouthfuls of sinew and tender meat. A selection of mixed mushrooms comes on the side, as well as a generous dollop of Cafe de Paris sauce made of butter, mustard, herbs, capers and anchovies.
If you want fries with it, it's an extra S$12 - pricey but they have the power combination of crisp exterior and fluffy soft insides, dusted with too much rosemary salt. Roasted broccolini is also good (S$16) with a zesty green goddess sauce, and crunchy almond bits.
For dessert, goat's cheese parfait (S$15) is light, whipped frozen white chocolate parfait with just a whisper of funkiness and intense berries. Chocolate tart (S$18) is easily shared despite its size, because of its insanely rich ganache and salted caramel cream that fills the chocolate cookie crust. A chewy, caramelly texture pervades, ending with hazelnut ice cream on top.
You can take the name out of the restaurant, but you can't take the original ethos out of Cheek. Which is good news for its fans, who have a familiar place to hang out until the next big chapter begins.
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.