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Fishing for a good catch at Catfish
5 Gemmill Lane
Singapore 069261 Tel: 6226-1395
Open for lunch and dinner Tues to Sun: 12pm to 3pm; 5pm to 10.30pm
CALLING all catfish. If you're worried that a restaurant by the same name is going to decimate you and your fellow mustachioed bottom feeders, fear not. Your uncle will not be served as the main course. Rather, Catfish is an equal opportunity seafood slayer that serves up hip vibes and an eclectic menu, prepared in an open kitchen against a backdrop of music so loud that no one can hear the tuna scream.
Catfish is the latest outpost in chef-restaurateur Andrew Walsh's growing stable of eateries. The self-styled 'Asian fusion fish grill and raw bar' has its fair share of looks and attitude, with its chill, garden-inspired decor and a presumptive manner with which you're warned your table has to be vacated in 90 minutes when you call to adjust your reservation time. "We can eat as fast as you can feed us," we say, but they're more agreeable by the time we arrive, and aren't in a hurry to get us out. There's time to soak in the ambience which is nice, and swelter while the air conditioning blows out the doorless entrance - which is not.
The menu has a loose, whatever-comes-to-mind quality about it. At times it feels like a throwback to a couple of decades ago when Aussie chefs came to Singapore and taught us natives how to eat avocados and cured fish. Eating out of little cones is so circa-not now, but here it's presented like an eye-opener. Maybe for the price, which is S$48 for six mouthfuls, justified by the itsy bits of uni, ikura and shavings of black truffle. The cones aren't so much wispy-thin delicate deep-fried wonton skins but thick, Italian cannoli-like cornets with a greasy feel. They're stuffed with different flavoured avocado or wasabi creams and topped with smoked salmon and ikura, scallop and uni, beef and truffle. No nuances required - just let the expensive trimmings do the talking.
In fact, uni, caviar and other fancy trimmings pop up gratuitously. What could have been a straightforward prawn and scallop toast has to be gussied up with uni and caviar to justify its S$58 price tag (which we didn't order). Or hasselback potato which is topped with sour cream and bits of tuna sashimi and ikura for S$16 (which we did). Take away the inconsequential tuna and well, a potato is a potato.
Hamachi sashimi (S$26) is a token Japanese attempt, where supermarket-grade amberjack is sliced and doused in an acidic solution designed to either cure the fish or destroy any evidence of a crime. They call it ponzu but it's anything but. Some helpful slices of nashi pear try to help but finally give up and succumb to the acid bath.
But we do find some charm in the squid noodle and chicken wing ramen (S$25) - an intensely salty truffle-infused broth that otherwise packs serious flavour, paired with squiggly tender squid cut to resemble udon. What looks like a cherry tomato reveals itself as a jammy confit egg yolk, and sheets of crisp chicken skin top it off.
We have to say they do a really good grilled fish. In this case it's a charred, smoky and super moist snapper (S$42) that would have been best just dressed simply. Instead, it goes to town with a garish, orangey sauce that is labelled as laksa but seems like a demented version created by an un-Asian person trying to cook something he's never tasted before. There's a heavy tamarind acidity throughout, and the weird addition of sago pearls as if they were poured in by accident by someone who hopes no one will notice. The best way to enjoy this is to avoid the sauce and just focus on the fish.
If you really need a vegetable side, there is the whole roasted cauliflower (S$14) that's fork-tender and fragrant with Middle Eastern spices, covered with a slightly astringent tahini cream and topped with pomegranate seeds. And incidentally, if you do need something that lives up to the restaurant's name, there is a token catfish taco that you can order as a snack.
Sweets are dependable, and we get a sticky chewy mound of chocolate cream surrounded by thick orange cream studded with charred orange segments, and chunks of crunchy honeycomb. Catfish feels like it punches below its weight, settling for an easy, predictable menu which is a no-brainer to execute. We really miss Maggie Joan's at this point. Catfish ought to hold itself to a higher level, and as it stands, it's not a great catch.
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 eals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.