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Funan Mall's Noka grows green shoots
#07-38 Funan Mall
109 North Bridge Road
Tel: 6877 4878
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 11.30am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10pm
IF you haven't heard of Funan Mall, chances are you might still be at Jewel in Changi Airport, wondering why you're suddenly able to take a photo of the famous waterfall without a dozen iPhone-wielding hands blocking your field of vision. Those hands have since moved to the new "lifestyle" destination right smack in town, riding Brompton bikes on indoor cycling paths, wolfing down Afuri ramen or, like us, escaping to the seventh floor where Singapore's first rooftop urban farm beckons.
With "sustainability" and "eco-friendly" being the buzz words these days, Funan is right on the money with this high-rise urban farm where bunga telang and lemon balm grow, and city folks can enjoy the greenery and sample oyster mushrooms plucked on the premises at the new "farm" restaurant, Noka.
Noka is the rooftop sister of Open Farm Community in Dempsey, with both farms operated by Edible Garden City, which is co-owned by Cynthia Chua of the Spa Esprit group. It boasts a farm-to-table concept, except that it exists only in theory - there isn't enough being grown on this farm to provide the restaurant with anything more than just herbs and flowers for garnishes.
Instead, Noka is styled as an organic, Nobu-esque eatery by head chef Seki Takuma, who creates contemporary fare with a Japanese twist, served in a casual, patio-like surroundings. The space is cool and clean, filled with blond wood and light colours, completed by a white umbrella-covered ceiling.
The food is a mixed bag - while we know not to expect anything fancy, we do expect more from a chef who flaunts his background as a native of Niigata (the rice capital of Japan) and a menu that promises a marriage of sustainable locally grown produce with Japanese techniques.
He does do tempura well, though, with a charcoal calamari (S$15) that coats baby squid with its own ink and a light batter that yields an airy, barely there crunch with a boost from a Japanese garlic aioli. Deep fried kaffir leaves and chilli powder add a pleasant fragrance and mild spicy kick.
Asparagus tempura (S$15), on the other hand, shows that locally grown organic vegetables aren't exactly shining examples of quality. Not when we're chomping on woody spears that defy you to digest them, leaving you with stringy shreds that you quietly dispose of in the eco-friendly paper napkins. The spears we leave behind on the plate are probably good for stabbing the farmer that grew them.
The kampong yakitori (S$12) doesn't fare much better, especially since spongy kampong chicken thigh chunks slathered in a gluey yakitori sauce possibly thickened with corn starch is about as far from authentic Japanese grilled skewers as Singapore is from Niigata.
The yakitori comes with deep fried fritters of something that did not want to be identified, maybe out of shame.
In contrast, we quite enjoy Noka's oden (S$20) - a potent stock (which may or may not have had too much seasoning powder in it) chock full of ingredients - huge fish cake rolls either plain like chikuwa or stuffed with squid; a fat fried tofu pillow wrapped around soft potato and carrot; meltingly soft braised daikon; and generous chunks of wagyu on a skewer.
Sushi Moriawase (S$35) is typical supermarket variety albeit with rice that's a little more tender (too soft actually) but acceptable for the price.
The chef's version of Nobu's miso marinated cod (S$38) is pretty good but over-priced for the tiny square of milky flesh with just a light taste of sweet miso, plated with black rice, very good sweet potato crisps and a sweet miso dip.
Desserts are a little odd - as if they started with a good idea that fell through at the end. Wafu parfait (S$15) features good matcha ice cream and decent red beans and clear jelly cubes, but watery mochi balls and a weird green tea mush cancel out all the good bits. Yuzu cheesecake (S$15) scores with sweet, refreshing citrusy yuzu sorbet but fails with its plasticky textured yuzu cheese mixture.
While the restaurant will soon get to harvest more greens from its farm outside, the food concept is going to need a lot more tweaks to get off the ground. For now, the seeds have been planted, but Noka needs to make sure it grows into what it should be.
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.