Fab Fries Aside, Don Ho Serves Hit-Or-Miss Mod Australian Plates

UNDERCOVER RESTAURANT REVIEW: Don Ho - Social Kitchen & Bar boasts a buzzy setting — but also a middling mishmash of Aussie fusion food. (A version of this story first appeared in Issue 1384, Apr 27, 2017.)

“How’s our greedy couple doing?” asks the perky hostess. It was cute the first two times, but not so much on the fourth. Especially since said couple is presently in the middle of an intense discussion. Okay, argument. It’s not entirely her fault. While chatting earlier, she'd asked us how come we knew so much about food, and since we were trying to review this month-old restaurant incognito, our partner blurts, “oh, we’re just greedy”. And so we were henceforth known as The Greedy Couple.

don ho   social kitchen and bar decor 3

Speaking of food, what does Don Ho serve? And who on earth is Don Ho?  According to the eatery’s press release, it’s a “social kitchen and bar”, with “exceptional cocktails” and "divine food", mostly cooked in a wood-fired oven. It’s named after the late Hawaiian musician Don Ho, who was allegedly an icon for all things laid-back and Hawaiian. You see, the same people also run the casual Hawaiian poke place called Loloku next door. Never mind that the food at Don Ho isn’t remotely island-like. 

don ho   social kitchen   bar fire

THE LOOK: After scuttling past several rubbish bins in the back alley to get to Don Ho’s clubby-looking entrance at The Working Capitol, the restaurant interior is an oasis of tropical chic. The music is loud, and the tables are filled mostly with the expat party set. We suppose it’s because Don Ho is owned by two Austrians who run hip event and lifestyle agency, Sunshine Nation. Their German partner, who owns Italian restaurant chain Marco Marco, adds some F&B know-how. There are leafy motifs on the wall, lush potted plants and eclectic furniture. In the middle sits a stylish, yet rustic open kitchen anchored by a large oven fuelled with a mixture of gas burners and wood, where a flurry of chefs headed by Singaporean chef Shiman Woon, 35, (he previously headed Majestic Harvest restaurant in Sydney) work. If it all looks a bit familiar, it's because most of the dining room’s framework has been inherited from the now-defunct wood-fired restaurant Lollapalooza.

don ho   social kitchen   bar pork cheeks char siu sliders

THE FOOD: The menu here is Australian fusion, peppered with Middle-Eastern influences. Plates are meant to be shared and come in regular or larger portions. "What are the dishes cooked in the wood-fired oven?", we ask our helpful server (who unlike her colleague, is savvier about giving customers service when necessary, and privacy when they silently crave it). "The breads", such as the pillowy ones used in the Pork Cheek Char Siu Sliders ($20 for two), she tells us. While the buns are good, and the sweet-tart kimchi and chilli mayo moreish, the pork is unfathomably tough, like overcooked kong bak that was forgotten and left to dry out on a countertop overnight.

don ho   social kitchen   bar wood roasted pumpkin and sweet potato

She says the Wood Roasted Pumpkin & Sweet Potato ($12) is also oven-cooked. And it tastes pretty much like it sounds: sweet, with nicely charred edges. It's generally soft, but unfortunately hard and under-roasted in spots. This is somewhat made up for by its blanket of gleefully punchy, garlic-spiked yogurt sauce.

don ho   social kitchen   bar beef short rib

Meanwhile, the Beef Short Rib ($44/600g) is perfectly tender, our knife slicing through its yielding flesh with little resistance. Pity it tastes under-seasoned despite its swarthy spice rub of coriander seeds, mustard seeds and fennel.

don ho   social kitchen   bar hand cut herb chips

We should’ve ended our meal with the addictive Hand-Cut Herb Chips (Brit/Aussie-speak for chunky fries; $14). The golden-brown, crisp-fluffy potatoes revelling in a perfumey orgy of rosemary, oregano, garlic, chilli and Parmesan cheese are totally worth the calories.

don ho social kitchen and bar self saucing chocolate pudding

Instead, we had to ruin it all by ordering three mediocre desserts. The best one of the lot, the Self Saucing Chocolate Pudding ($10), basically a competent version of a molten chocolate cake, is marred by a generous sprinkling of hazelnut praline which should have been named “painfully gritty edible sand with a hint of nut”. It almost shattered our molars, then remained wilfully stuck in them till we got home and performed some excavation work.

VERDICT: 3/5 Lovely setting and on the ball service — even though some of the staff here don’t seem to know the meaning of personal space. But if you ask us what our favourite dish here is, we’d have to say the fries. And we’re not sure if that’s a good thing. $$-$$$

1 Keong Saik Rd, The Working Capitol Building, S089109. Tel: 6223-5001. Open daily 6pm­–midnight. Last orders 10pm (food); at closing (drinks). www.don-ho.com


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