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Make new friends wining & dining
Level 10, YOTEL
366 Orchard Road
Tel: 6866 8067
Open daily: 6.30am to 12am
The Wine & Gourmet Friends
48 Bukit Pasoh Road
Tel: 6224 1982
Open daily: 12pm to 11pm
CONVIVIALITY. Not everybody is into that. As far as we know, there are two camps of diners. In the first one are those who don't like other diners. They speak in low tones, detest being within earshot of other people and carp incessantly about restaurants which pack their tables so closely that two handbags cannot fit between two women seated on a shared banquette. In the ensuing fake, "Oh it's ok, leave yours there/ Oh no, you put yours there" polite showdown, the loser ends up with hers squashed on her lap.
In the second camp are those for whom socialising is like the dawn of a new day. Other people complete them, so it's not unusual for a party of two to enter a restaurant and leave as a party of five or six new BFFs heading to a bar where they will multiply further.
So, it's the latter that are likely to gravitate towards the likes of friendship-promoting eateries such as Komyuniti and The Wine & Gourmet Friends.
Komyuniti sits on the 10th floor of the perpetually buzzing boutique hotel YOTEL in Orchard Road - with a lobby overflowing with tourists checking in and out, or sardine-packed in one corner like stranded budget airline travellers awaiting news on the next flight out.
Compared to the frenetic activity in the lobby, Komyuniti offers virtual solitude - at least during lunchtime - where introverts can have their pick of the communal tables with little chance of being disturbed. It's designed as half-cafe and half-co-working space so the smallest table fits six and the rest are good for at least 10 friendly people.
It doesn't look like too many people know about the newly rebranded eatery, with only a smattering of tourists wandering in. But it's a rather pleasant place for a casual, reasonably priced meal or snack. Maybe the extroverts come in later.
Small bites are the mainstay of the menu, but don't dismiss it as token food. There's some thought in the cooking, which is simple and straightforward but with a fresh perspective.
The kitchen is helmed by chef Mark Tai, formerly of Cheek by Jowl, which may explain the slight breezy Aussie influence of the food.
Curry corn soup (S$9)tastes every so slightly commercial but not in an off-putting manner - with a token spicy accent. Salmon Poke (S$13) and Beef Tartare (S$14) are more than acceptable cold raw starters. The sashimi grade salmon is cubed and marinated in a soya-chilli marinade and served with prawn crackers aka keropok. Chopped beef rump is also localised with punchy fresh herbs instead of capers, and served with a dollop of whipped brown butter that is at odds with the light, clean taste of the beef. Skip the Crab Rillette (S$14) - a fail of a so-called chilli crab spread that tastes like it's spent too long in the fridge, piled on puffed rice crackers.
Buttermilk fried chicken (S$13) look hard and dry but are pretty good crunchy cornmeal-crusted nuggets sitting on a bed of sweet potato mash and succotash (a medley of corn and beans, we find out from Google). Slow-roasted duck breast (S$10/$20) is surprisingly good - pink, tender slices fanned out over slightly tangy braised red cabbage and potatoes.
But the hero dish turns out to be the simplest - lovely charred brussels sprouts (S$9) fried till all the raw green taste that puts you off these mini-cabbages disappears, leaving caramelised tender mouthfuls tossed in a lightly spicy sweet sauce.
End off with moist slices of homespun muffin-like apple walnut cake (S$10) served with ice cream, and maybe, just maybe, you'll be happy enough to say "Hi" to the strangers at another table. Or not.
At The Wine Gourmet & Friends, there's no mistaking what its raison d'etre is. It takes the European concept of a wine bar and gives it a complete Singaporean vibe with its price-friendly wines, zichar-based menu and no-frills ambience.
Located on Bukit Pasoh Road just next to the Dorsett hotel, TWGF (with no relation to the tea brand) creates a venue for you to browse through its extensive retail section for your favourite pinot noir to bring home or open at your table to match the locally inspired cooking in a non-threatening environment.
There's no need to show off your wine knowledge - this is a place to kick back and chill out, maybe share a glass with the very hospitable manager whose first recommendation is the homemade hei zhou (S$12)or deep-fried fritters stuffed with minced pork and prawn. Crisp discs of fried beancurd skin are drizzled in kicap manis for its earthy, dark sweetness, and is matched with what looks like homemade acar pickles.
Soya-cured salmon and Asian slaw (S$15) is more of a wacky yusheng with its pile of shredded greens somewhat soggy and weighed down by its thick mayonnaise-like dressing with hints of pickled ginger. Little crackers complete the Chinese New Year feel but this yusheng isn't that fun to eat.
But if you're in the CNY mood, there's the comforting flavour bomb of abalone in chicken broth (S$16) where a large chicken leg totally hides the tiny canned baby abalone lost in the depths of this intensely flavoured brew that includes a hint of cordyceps, red dates and wolfberries.
Besides the soup, the other star dish has to be the roast hormone-free pork belly (S$24) with skin so light and crisp it just shatters upon first crunch (watch for dry, burnt aftertaste, though).
The rest of the dishes are so-so, including a black pepper crab noodle (S$18) that reminds you of empty-fridge day where you throw together instant noodles with some obscure sauce and shredded crabmeat you unearthed from a dark corner.
Dessert features a passable chocolate fondant cake and a convoluted Durian Bombe (S$12) that's like an explosion of broken cookies, blobs of durian puree and tasteless ice cream under an off-colour turquoise meringue shell that looks more like a soursop than the king of fruit.
While the food is pretty hit-and-miss, what TWGF has going for it is its down-to-earth, welcoming vibe that makes you feel like, yes, you can actually make friends here.
Ratings - Komyuniti: 6.5
Wine Gourmet & Friends: 6
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.