the hinata diaries

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wild Rocket

We moved into our new home in February and have been infatuated with it since.

Didn't matter if some odds and ends (or an entire floor) hadn't been completed, didn't matter if boxes remained to be unpacked, didn't matter if a layer of potentially carcinogenic sawdust blanketed the rooms - we'd waited a year to move in and we were entertaining at home, dammit!

Thus began an endless stream of Sunday brunches, weekday dinners, Saturday afternoon teas, a frenzied race to discover new friends - new friends! - or recover long forgotten ones, just to have continual excuses to host at home. Honestly, if a homeless person walked passed and asked to be fed, we would probably have whipped out the foie gras and champagne - although not before bringing said homeless person on a forced tour of every nook and cranny in the house, accompanied by our now well-rehearsed monologue on the origins of our furniture and design concept, followed by a 5 minute diatribe on how it's impossible to find a good contractor nowadays. It would be enough to make him bolt for the door.

I shudder to think how annoying we'll be when we have a kid.

At any rate, happy to report that the honeymoon period is now officially over! As evidenced by the recent slew of restaurant reviews in previous posts, we finally released our deathgrip on the walls and have rejoined polite society.

All this as a rather long prologue to tell you about Wild Rocket - a restaurant that I'd been meaning to try for months but never quite got around to.

Finally went there for dinner last Friday night with 4 other girlfriends for an overdue catch-up session. Wild Rocket is located at Hangout@ Mt. Emily, a funky and relatively new hostel off Mount Sophia. At the end of Upper Wilkie road, you arrive at a quiet, deserted hilltop park, above the lights of the city, an almost retro scene that just needs lovers whispering sweet nothings in open top Cadillacs. Next to that, an old iron gate covered in wild grass frames an enormous colonial mansion that has seen better days. Continue on this little panaromic sweep and your eyes finally settle on Hangout @ Mt. Emily, recessed behind a short but steep driveway. You descend to backpackers seated outside having a quiet philosophical smoke. You give the main door a little push, and the romantic, pensive mood you've painstakingly fostered in the last couple minutes quickly dissolves.

Tables are filled with large groups of friends, all sharply dressed, all gesticulating wildly, all chattering excitedly.

Uniformed waiters glide through the room in practised efficiency, carrying menus, pouring wine, serving baskets of bread.

The host, dressed and coiffured for a big Friday night out, cheerily greets you with a large and genuinely warm smile.

I like this place already.

Onto the food.

For starters, we had cod fish cakes and a serving of the laksa pesto spaghetti. The cod fish cakes were soft and flaky, more akin to crab cakes than to the rubbery white fishcakes that immediately come to mind. The spicy thai sauce that accompanied them was typical of any Thai restaurant - a little unimaginative but fortunately not bad.

The laksa pesto spaghetti, on the other hand, is one of the restaurant's signature dishes, and for good reason. The spaghetti was perfectly al dente and the pesto clung to it almost fanatically. The minimal use of oil helped to bring out the playful contrast between the sweet basil and the edgy, fragrant laksa. The result was a light but intensely flavoured mouthful which, like any good seductress, feigned resistance for the briefest of moments before yielding. So drama right??? Seriously though, I would hike up Mount Sophia in the pouring rain and my highest heels for a plate of this. Nicky even considered cancelling her main for a second plate, and when Angelina realized that the remaining sauce could be mopped up with our little squares of bread, the plate was left so clean the restaurant needn't even wash it.

My main was the crusted Chilean seabass with baby kale leaves and drizzled with a sticky black sauce that seemed a combination of a balsamic reduction and dark soy sauce - thick, sweet with a bit of tartness. I loved the idea of a crusted seabass as compared to other fashionable fish - the texture of miso cod makes me feel like a granny without her teeth in, gumming her way through, while seared tuna fillet is usually way too dry on the outside and occasionally fibrous on the inside. The crusted seabass, on the other hand, offered a combination of crisp and crunchy on top and light and healthy in the middle. The crunchy bits are apparently a combination of sundried tomatoes and breadcrumbs, and are incredibly addictive - the grown-up equivalent of the Long John Silver fish bits that we used to fight over as kids. Local seafood restaurants used to serve something similar - steamed fish topped with sweet and crunchy bits apparently made with beans, I've been told it's a Teochew preparation. It's impossible to find nowadays - anyone know of a place to recommend?

The other girls tried a variety of mains - salmon fillet, lamb rack, seared rib-eye, all of which were deemed good to very good.

Desserts for the table were warm chocolate gateau (i.e. molten chocolate cake, lava cake, you know the one), strawberry cheesecake with maple walnut ice-cream, served like a parfait, and a slice of kueh buloh tiramisu. All were exceedingly enjoyable - the warm chocolate gateau had a surprisingly thin cake 'skin' and oozed endless chocolate lava, the strawberry cheesecake was dense, roll-around-in-your-mouth gooey, and the tiramisu was reliable despite tasting less exotic than it intimated.

Total bill, including a bottle of wine, came up to a reasonable $60 per person.

Service had personality, in a good way. When we asked our server how big the garden salad was, he replied that it comes in a bowl. Nicky then pointed out that bowls come in different sizes, so could he show us how big their bowls are. Our server then burst into a fit of giggles that he wouldn't explain - we eventually figured that with Nicky's Australian accent, he probably heard her asking for the size of his balls. Supplemented with her hand gestures, "Bowls can be this big... or THIS big!"


Second incident was at the end of the night when we were ordering desserts. Angelina had had her heart set on the profiteroles from the moment we arrived, only to be advised by the same server that she try the warm chocolate gateau instead. He seemed quite adamant at refusing to let her order the profiteroles, and insisting that she would be much happier with the gateau. This bunch of girls not being the ones to take such bullying lightly, we eventually relented only on the agreement that if we didn't like the chocolate gateau, he would then serve us the profiteroles for free. When the gateau arrived, we were immediately humbled, realizing nothing would top this. All the same, we decided the server deserved a bit of a ribbing and were determined to tell him it tasted awful. When he eventually came round to gloat, he smiled at Angelina and asked how it was. The dear girl swiftly blurted out "It was fantastic!", leaving us stewing over the thought of lost profiteroles and once again sending the server into fits of giggles.

And all around us, you could see the same - waiters exchanging pleasantries and a smile with their tables of satisfied guests. A rare and beautiful sight in Singapore!

Our dinner concluded with a quick tour of the rooftop garden with its pots of herbs, dramatic mini-fountain and warm Balinese deck. It would've been perfect for an after dinner or post Sunday brunch drink, but we had already reached our perfect dinner sweet spot and decided to leave that for another day.

All in, compared to my recent adventures at Le Papillon and Graze, I have to say I like Wild Rocket the best. The personable service staff really make all the difference, and on top of that the food is faultless and prices are reasonable. It's one of the few places which, after the pomp and fanfare of opening to designer crowds and celebrity reviews, is still worth visiting a second, third and fourth time. I'm looking forward to my next one.


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