SINGAPORE — Sitting here at Catfish off Gemmill Lane is, in some ways, stirring up a lot of emotions for me. Three years ago when I was just a mere dabbler of food, I discovered Gemmills, a literal hole in the wall cafe that was dim, moody, and made mainstream the whole ‘enter-by-the-backdoor’ shenanigans. It was raining and needing a place for shelter, I sat on one of Gemmills’ plush sofa while waiting for the brief shower to abate.
Fast forward a few years, and I find myself coming back to this street at very opportune and life-changing moments of my career. Merci Marcel was where I met the editor of High Net Worth publication, where I wrote for six months. Round back, is Ding Dong—which has since shuttered—which was my first few tastings as a food writer at Yahoo, and where I also had the pleasure of sampling a pop-up menu between the restaurant and the three MasterChef Singapore finalists. And then, there’s Maggie Joan’s whose food is so exquisite, it made me weep. It, too, has closed.
I know of Catfish through Instagram back in February—a contemporary Fish Grill & Raw Bar by Chef Andrew Walsh under Cure Concepts, the same hospitality folks behind Cure, Butcher Boy, and Bao Boy. After months of online teasing, Catfish finally threw its doors wide open on October 1st, welcoming curious patrons (that’s me) into its cosy space that sits a safe-distancing approved 43.
The menu is divided into concise one-word descriptions of what to expect for lunch and dinner—Snacks, Raw, Small, Fish, Vegetables, Others, and Desserts. Catfish being seafood-centric means careful and precise balance of flavours that don’t threaten to steal the limelight from such delicate and raw forms. Neither does it forget the basic tripartite of texture and flavour, no matter how tiny the output.
A Japanese Catfish Taco, no bigger than my palm, is a beautiful complexity of saltiness and sweetness in a bite, paired with a satisfying textural crunch of a crispy wonton skin. The Hasselback Potato comes topped with a bright lime-marinated Bluefin Tuna and Ikura on a slather of wasabi mayo. The wasabi mayo is not at all spicy and is clearly designed as such so that you get the astringency of horseradish without overwhelming the palate for what’s to come.
Elsewhere, a Hamachi Sashimi comes in a shallow bowl, almost as if unaware of its own burst of flavours and colours. It’s thoroughly academically sound with flavour and textural balances that are by far most superior. Catfish gives loads to love here: an unerringly fresh Hamachi, subtly tart pears delicately sliced so that it’s translucent when held against the light, and a heavier-tasting ponzu broth that is both bright and impeccably bold—a heroic contrast against the lightness of fruit and fish. When placed together, it all makes for a rather poignant example of what umami should be.
Hearty appetites with a penchant for variety will clamour for the Catfish Bento Box, a respectful tray of small plates for the undecided. Why have one, when you can have five, am I right? It comes with a side of sashimi, a chawanmushi with onion broth, and a profoundly flavourful chicken and yuzu broth.
On my visit, there was a thick fillet of simply grilled Salmon and a battered, then fried asparagus. But what stole my heart was the small, humble bowl of impeccably seasoned cauliflower quinoa rice that manages to arrest the palate with overtures of sweetness from raisins and a riotous salty burst from ikura.
Of course, what’s a seafood-centric restaurant with the proverbial Fish & Chips? At Catfish, this familiar jaunt came as a hulking slab of Barramundi, deep-fried to crispy perfection and served on a bed of fries. The Barramundi flakes like a dream and is quite clearly, well-worth the calories of anything lovingly fried. Attention is also paid to the condiments on the tray. We’re talking a malt vinegar in a labelled spray bottle, an edamame salad, a perky jalapeño tartar sauce, and a sweet lemon with a beautiful char on the surface. This is like your regular Fish & Chip but dressed up for the Met Gala.
I came to Catfish expecting a lunch that’s quiet and reflective, but today’s affair was anything but. And in many ways, that’s a good thing. The restaurant was bustling with convivial conversations, laughter, and a jolly spirit that assures me everything is on track to recovery for the F&B industry.
It’s the same kind of jocundity I get from a dessert of Chocolate Mousse on an orange curd, dressed with chunks of honeycomb. It’s sweet like my dining partner pointed out, but there are different levels of sweetness which makes dessert such a delight to eat. A Strawberry Pavlova is a fragile dramatic disc of white that hides chunks of sugared strawberries, a tangy Fromage Blanc and a lightly herbaceous Basil sauce (for lack of a better description, I apologise).
If lunch today was to be believed, the recovery of the F&B industry seems to be on the rise, though hardly out of the woods yet. Slowly, but surely. Still, it is places like Catfish that exemplifies what it means to take risks and have faith, which, in times like this, is something we all could use a little bit of.
Set lunch: S$45++ for two courses, S$55++ for three courses
Website | 5 Gemmill Lane, S069261
Tue - Sun: 12pm to 3pm; 5pm to 10.30pm
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