I have a love hate relationship with Dempsey. On one hand, it’s an awesome place to be on a quiet weekday afternoon. The whole place just exudes serenity and peacefulness, and the typical patrons to the area are well-heeled tai-tais with their other tai-tai friends. You can just take out your textbooks, order a cuppa, steal the occasion glance at the tai-tais and greenery, then press on with your readings. At night, Dempsey transforms into a much more happening place, though a little too commercialized for my liking then.
Participants in the SMU Gourmet Club’s latest food event were eager to try out a relatively new establishment in Dempsey called The Disgruntled Chef, helmed by Chef Daniel Sia. Born and raised in Singapore, Chef Daniel started his cooking career as a junior chef at Les Amis, moving up the ranks to become Chef de Cuisine at Marmalade Pantry and subsequently Head Chef at The White Rabbit. His visualization and dining concept behind The Disgruntled Chef revolves around a fun and casual communal dining experience, where diners can have access to good food without the stifling nature of most fine-dining restaurants.
Sticking to the emphasis on communal dining, instead of categorizing dishes as appetizers and mains, they are instead named “small plates” and “big plates”. I’d recommend having between 3 to 4 people share a plate, so that everyone has just about enough to feel satisfied but not too much as to hinder trying out a greater diversity of dishes.
For the small plates, we started off with the Katies Chunky Chips with Aioli. Essentially, it’s just thick-cut fries fried in truffle oil. Personally, after trying truffle fries over several occasions, I find that the taste of truffle fries doesn’t really vary much from place to place but it’s definitely a must try if you haven’t! Well, the truffle fries isn’t on the menu of The Disgruntled Chef and was served today as part of our special lunch menu so I can’t guarantee that you will be able to order it here on your next visit. If you are really interested in trying out truffle fries, other places that come to mind are Barracks and Skinny Pizza, which serves a shoestring variant of truffle fries.
Call it whatever you want, ostentatious; pretentious, but the Crayfish Mac & Cheese ($14++) spoke to me. We were on the same wavelength and I liked that there was a mix of light cream at the base and gratinated cheddar on the top. This definitely helped to avoid an overly cheesy experience that threatens being too heavy and filling you up too fast. However in my humble opinion, the crayfish is pretty redundant since you can hardly taste its presence anyway.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Crispy Lamb Short Rib with Chili, Cumin & Mint Yoghurt ($18++). When ribs are deep-fried, they tend to dry up really quickly and harden but this wasn’t the case here. A light shell of marinade encased the lamb ribs, while the meat remained tender and juicy. It’s possibly one of the most tender lamb ribs I have had and with a light dab of the mint yoghurt, what you get is a very balanced flavour free from gaminess and whets the appetite for more to come.
Without doubt, my favourite dish today was the Baked Pork Knuckle Terrine with Mash Potatoes and Black Truffle Sauce ($18++). Unlike what I envisioned of a typical terrine, where you get a cold pate-like dish that is eaten with bread or brioche, we were instead served a dish of steamy rounded pieces of meat over a very creamy truffled mash. It looked more like a roulade (rolled pieces of meat) than anything else so later on, I queried Chef Daniel about this and he confirmed the existence of hot terrines as well, though it’s a rarer find compared to its cold counterparts. Anyways, the reason why I found this pork knuckle terrine so divine is possibly because the meat is first cooked in a sous vide machine, where it is placed under a vacuum at low cooking temperatures over an extended period of time to ensure that the meat is evenly cooked, tender and succulent.
Maybe it’s a guy thing but I’d rather splurge on meat than vegetables but for those who need their daily greens, the Baby Spinach Salad with Mirin Dressing & Marinated Egg ($14++) is pretty decent. The Mirin Dressing provides a savoury-sweet tang that contrasts well with the slight bitterness of the raw vegetables.
We had the opportunity to sample 2 big plates as well, though they were not as well received as the small plates.
The Braised Oxtail Stew, Carrots, Kombu & Japanese Soy ($34++) came across as overly Asian, not really fitting in with the European theme of The Disgruntled Chef. However, judging this dish from an objective viewpoint and at the risk of sounding a little harsh, I felt it tasted somewhat like canned stewed pork.
The Roast Chicken with Chermoula Spices, Yoghurt and Roasted Potatoes ($34++) wasn’t great either. The yoghurt was similar to the one used earlier for the lamb short rib but didn’t complement the chicken as well because the chicken’s marinade was a lot more bland, and using yoghurt to tone down the savouriness further didn’t sit well with me.
For desserts, we had the Apple Tart with Caramel Sauce & Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Thinly sliced caramelized apples rested atop a crisp layer of filo pastry and its sour zing went well with the sweet caramel sauce and ice cream. For vanilla ice creams, I employ a simple test to see if it’s of decent quality by just looking out for the black specks of vanilla beans in the ice cream. And yes, the black specks were evident in the ice cream we had here and it was pretty creamy too.
The Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream ($14++) was a crowd pleaser, similar in texture to the more commonly found sticky date pudding and great for those with a sweet tooth.
Well, after all is said and done, I’d suggest that just for a while, push aside lessons learnt from your etiquette class that you shouldn’t be sharing food in a fine dining restaurant. The Disgruntled Chef doesn’t serve to function as a fine dining restaurant anyways. Drop your airs, stop acting all atas and share your damn food. After all, caring is sharing.
The Disgruntled Chef
26B Dempsey Road
Tel: +65 6476 5305