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Social Place's quirky Chinese food passes the taste test
Social Place Singapore
#01-22 FORUM The Shopping Mall
583 Orchard Road, S'pore 238884
Tel: 8870 2288
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 11.30am to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10pm
CHRISTMAS is over but if you're still hankering for some revelry and good cheer, look no further than Social Place, whose very name dictates that you leave your inner Grinch at the door. This is a place to hang out with friends, not get hung up about getting a gourmet meal. Here, you can play with your food. Eat a jelly pig. No one will judge you. Even if the cartoon-y porcine head is attached to what looks like the flesh-coloured contours of a crawling baby. It alternates between cuteness and creeping you out.
Social Place is a Hong Kong import that translates rather well in cheerful, not-too-plasticky premises in the family-centric FORUM mall. It's Instagram-compliant with vibrant mosaic floors, large bustling kitchen steaming in action like the elevated cha chaan teng it emulates, and the conversation-starting mahjong tiled-wall that spells out "Tang Palace Small Gathering" in large gold Chinese characters. You could have a big gathering from Yanxi Palace and be welcome too.
Decor aside, Social Place's fun-loving demeanour extends to visual trickery with its crockery, almost daring you to complain about leftover dirt that turns out to be little black ants painted on the dishes.
One way to tell if a restaurant takes pride in its food is when what appears before you really looks like the glossy photos in the menu. Social Place does just that, delivering standard Chinese fare with a refreshing zaniness that actually works.
Noodles in scallion oil (S$8.80) is deceptively simple with just noodles and oil - which also makes it the easiest to muck up if you don't get both ingredients right in one shot.
This version is not the most poised - it's a tad heavy on the oil and the noodles could fuel you for an afternoon of farming - but whoever prepared it shares our love for "QQ" textures and balanced savouriness. We will burn it off with a hard day of basil harvesting, maybe.
The food comes quickly, as if afraid the previous dishes might get lonely. Bang comes our prawn toast ($12.80) - deep-fried in so much oil you could let it drip dry over your car's petrol tank and maybe get an extra 1km out of it.
Bam comes our deep-fried charcoal tofu (S$9.80), radish cake with crispy garlic (S$9.80), iced okra (S$6.80), red rice rolls (S$10.80) and truffle shiitake buns (S$6.80) all at once. We're not so much eating as we are conducting crowd control.
The okra could have been an afterthought but instead it's refreshingly chilled to contain its natural sliminess, seasoned right through in a soy sauce-garlic oil dressing and covered with chopped fresh garlic to reinforce its allegiance to allium. We vampire-proof ourselves by polishing it off - AND the crispy garlic bits from the fluffy soft cubes of fried radish cake for good measure.
Red rice rolls hint at something exotic but really it's just someone's smart aleck idea of colouring rice rolls with beetroot juice so you get cheong fan coloured a light pink and folded over crispy yu tiao like the conventional version. Still enjoyable anyway, because chomping on a mix of crunchy yu tiao and slippery skin is the same as doing a happy jig. In turn, the charcoal tofu starts with a crunch and then goes nowhere with the bland bean curd within.
Truffle shiitake buns seem to be the latest Insta-darling since we can't get over how these dopplegangers could get past any passport control posing as a real mushroom. But if they get arrested, their bigger crime isn't identity theft but possessing too much dough, negating what little fake truffle-scented mushroom filling is in it.
When it comes to effort, we have to give Social Place props for going to the trouble of deepfrying nuggets of chicken in plenty of Sichuan spice and dried chillies, and conjure up two life-like "egg yolks" made up of mango pudding in empty egg shells that look exactly like the real thing but do nothing for the dish. Eggs (Ain't) That Simple (S$24.80), we know, and we salute their spherification skills, but the dish ain't that great.
What does go down a treat would not win anything in the looks department but Seafood Crackling Rice Soup (S$24.80) sure passes our taste test for its tummy-warming goodness of hot shellfish broth, rice and crispy puffed rice, and nuggets of firm, bouncy lobster and shrimp.
On the other hand, wagyu char siew (S$28) aims to rewrite the Cantonese roast meat rule book, but comes closer to beef jerky instead. It can try, but it will never be admitted into the ranks of elite combination roast platters.
And now we're left with jelly pig - wobbly is its disposition and coconut milk its composition. But it invokes our squeamish predisposition so we look away as we slice off its face. Frankly, we prefer the stress-free jelly mahjong tiles.
So flex your interpersonal skills and hang out at Social Place, where the food doesn't reach a high but will put you in a happy 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.