There’s a tough crowd at our lunch table today: two pals in our party lived in the US of A for a few years and consider themselves adept in the art of dissecting authentic American diner food. As for us, well, we’ve holidayed in the country several times and always dug the gleefully greasy, trucker-type cuisine that Guy Fieri wolfs down in his Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. You know, the kind of cholesterol-clogging delights that go towards your doctor’s new sports car fund: buttermilk fried chicken, burgers and syrupy pancakes. Month-old American-style diner One Night Only at River Valley serves all these and more, including all-day breakfast. The 36-seater is opened by the dudes behind burrito joint Muchachos and popular protein bowl chain, The Daily Cut. These guys know something about producing likeable, flavour-packed food (at least at Muchachos). Moreover, one of its co-owners studied in the States, and both partners recently went on an American eating road trip as research — they stayed for one night only at each of the towns they visited, hence the restaurant’s name. The chef in charge here, however, is a Malaysian who didn’t go on that trip. Perhaps he should have.
THE LOOK: Somewhat haphazardly put together. The best seats are by the window, framed by quintessential diner-esque gauzy curtains. The suspended lamps also look the part. But the thinly cushioned booth seats upholstered in dull grey and blue look a bit cheap. The eatery sits at the junction of River Valley and Zion Road, where Tony’s Pizza used to stand. Be warned that the nearest car park is a long and sweaty walk away.
THE FOOD: First up, Buffalo Wings ($7.50), six petite mid-joints slathered in a bright orange sauce that’s more tangy and salty than spicy. “These look and taste the part, but they’re not crispy!” huffs our friend, who has lived in Buffalo, NY. Indeed.
Most of us like the briny, sweet and juicy Maryland Crab Cakes ($18 for two), but we wish the jumbo lump crab patties were less mushy.
There is a ripple of excitement at the table when the beautifully golden Chicken Fried Steak ($27) arrives. A mini argument about whether the dish is made of chicken or not ensues. For the record — it’s a thin slab of beef, wagyu topside here, deep-fried in a flour coat similar to the one used in fried chicken. Gee, the Americans think of everything. This one is shatteringly crisp, with a fork-tender interior. Some of us enjoy it more than the others.
We think the Buttermilk Fried Chicken ($19.50; see main pic) is better seasoned. Two medium-sized drumsticks and a hunk of breast meat marinated in tenderising buttermilk brine, then dredged in flour with “lots of herbs” and sizzled to a deep brown. It’s quite good, but not swoon-worthy enough for us to fantasise about if we want to sin on fried bird while on a diet. Both dishes come with a choice of two sides.
The fragrant, soft-crumbed Cornbread and flaky, fluffy Biscuits and Gravy (though we’re not hot about the cloying cream sauce on the latter) are delicious.
However, the smallish No-Frills Cheeseburger ($13.50) looks and tastes depressing. “The beef is gamey,” declares our lunch kaki. We think he’s being polite. When we try to order dessert, the friendly waitress tells us there’s only ice cream (a cheesecake was later introduced after this review was published). No towering pies or cakes in a diner? What would Guy Fieri say?
We make do with a Malted Chocolate Milkshake ($10.50). Surprise, surprise — it’s one of the highlights of our meal: sludgy and devilishly rich, with a whisper of biscuity malt.
VERDICT: 3/5 Instead of ginormous, gloriously calorific greasy spoon plates, what’s served here is a watered-down version with modest portions, probably to cater to Singaporean stomachs. There are some tasty gems, but overall, the flavours aren’t quite there yet. It’s as though the chef here understands American diner food only as a vague concept. $$-$$$
397 River Valley Rd, S248292. Tel: 6235-1248. Open daily except Mon. Tues-Fri noon-10pm, Sat & Sun 9am-10pm. Last orders at 9pm. www.onenightonly.sg