There’s a snappy New York City-style buzz in the packed dining room tonight. It could be the several angmoh chefs we see working in the semi-open kitchen. Or perhaps it’s the extra smooth service we get from the hostesses and servers, even though one-week-old The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar shares the same space with the less sexy Ippoh Tempura Bar and Candlenut at lifestyle enclave Como Dempsey. We think it’s due to the fact that the man behind it all, Frenchman Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a celebrity chef based in New York, is present tonight (he’s gone now), flitting between the kitchen and the dining room, stopping by to ask us how’s the food — even before we revealed we’re from a magazine. The man has some serious charm. Talent too, since his flagship restaurant Jean-Georges in Manhattan was awarded three Michelin stars (see previous story). But his first venture in Singapore is nothing so highbrow, evident in its nondescript moniker. In fact, it’s pretty affordable, with prices hovering between $24 to $35 for a main course.
THE LOOK: Somehow more sophisticated than the other two eateries sharing the space. It’s casual tropical chic with plenty of class: intricately patterned white wicker chairs, gleaming black-and-white floors, a glowing bar where lush fronds dangle overhead. And there's flattering lighting, courtesy of massive geometric patterned lamps.
THE SAVOURIES: Jean-Georges says the menu here is a ‘best of’ collection from his other casual eateries in the States. It’s an approachable list of European and American plates inflected with chef’s beloved Asian flourishes. There are pastas, pizzas, meats and fish, with only a few higher-priced luxury items, like the appetiser of Egg Caviar ($35). This Jean-Georges signature is prepared perfectly: warm gooey poached egg set against cold cream, its richness counterpointed with a briny crown of caviar. It's a toothsome if slightly dated dish, and a bit extravagant for something gone in a few bites.
The Black Truffle and Fontina Cheese Pizza ($20); which feeds two as an appetiser is a more satisfying affair. The smallish pie has an appropriately puffy crust blistered with char marks, and a centre slathered with black truffle paste (the canned stuff mixed with truffle oil, according to our online research) and salty cheese. It’s not the best pizza we’ve had, but it’s very good.
The Black Pepper Crab Dumplings ($19) is chef’s love letter to Singaporean hawker food. The fat parcels have pleasantly slippery, springy skins and an umami crabmeat filling, though the peppery sauce coating it is a touch sugary. Meanwhile, Jean-Georges tells us we should order the Spice Crusted Snapper with Sweet And Sour Broth. But because our nice waiter hints it kinda tastes like “gu lu yok (sweet and sour pork)”, and we didn't come here for zi char fare, we go for the Sauteed Cod with Fragrant Green Curry ($30) instead. Foolish move — the fish is too salty and the curry not exactly fragrant.
But the BBQ Glazed Short Rib ($29), which said waiter also recommends, is lovely. A hulking slab of beef rib in a lip-smackingly tangy, sweet and savoury sauce, with gently crisp edges and flesh so tender, we eat it with a spoon.
THE SWEETS: Now, for the famous Molten Chocolate Cake ($15). It’s a dessert Jean-Georges is said to have created and has been imitated in kitchens everywhere since its invention in the late ’80s. No, we did not hear a choir of angels sing as our fork slid into its dark belly. But it’s an excellent version of a cake we’re frankly jaded about. There’s a crunch to its exterior, and a satisfying ooze to its interior, anchored by good bittersweet chocolate and a generous hit of salt to balance the sugar. But the Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sundae ($14) is perhaps more exciting. Three satiny scoops of salty-sweet ice cream plopped on unctuous hot fudge, plus caramel popcorn and peanuts. It’s extremely sweet, but so moreish we eat most of it anyway.
VERDICT: 3.5/5 A good mix of American comfort grub and elegant French food spritzed with Asian inflections. Some dishes are delicious, others pedestrian. But as our colleague puts it: “the prices here are comparable to lamer hipster cafes”. In other words, it’s decent value for a Jean-Georges restaurant — so don’t expect the posh plates Donald Trump had at the chef’s three Michelin star eatery in NYC. $$-$$$
Blk 17D Dempsey Rd, S249676. Tel: 1800-304-5588. Open Sun-Thurs 6pm-10pm; till 11pm Fri & Sat. Bar open 5pm-midnight daily. Last orders at closing. www.comodempsey.sg/the-dempsey-cookhouse-and-bar
Photos: Francesco Tonelli