SINGAPORE — My latest gripe with the food industry in Singapore is aimed squarely at content creators who too often and often too unnecessarily label food, restaurants, and cafes ‘Instagram-worthy’. There are various synonyms to this bad habit: IG-worthy, #aesthetic, food-for-the-feed.
It annoys me greatly for many reasons. One, it forces restaurants to focus solely on the physical outlook of every dish in their menu (I saw coloured sauces on fries last month) to compel visits by throngs of Singaporeans with an Instagram feed to upkeep. Two, if the food is proudly laudable, it would be a damn shame to reduce such culinary creativity simply to how pretty it looks. It’s gotten so tiresome that I automatically assume places and food that are too pretty, not worthy of my patronage.
Such was the case with Hathaway at Dempsey Hill. It’s downright annoying (and in some ways misleading) that for the first few weeks of its official opening, all everyone could talk about was how ‘Instagram-worthy’ the place looked. “Oh, what pretty decor! We can take a picture by that IG-worthy wall! Look at how much natural light pours in! It’s so dreamy!”
Honestly, it’s getting tiresome, dear food influencers. Do better.
Fortunately, I decided to put aside such misgivings and visit Hathaway for myself with zero research, zero expectations, and nary an inkling of the type of menu they’ve curated. The interior, however, does not stray too far from the imaginings of the Instagram community and employs in its arsenal of design lots of wood, shades of white, gold panels, and a length of a wall in a very select shade of Plum.
The folks behind Hathaway are also the owners of Bread Yard at Fusionopolis—the tour de force of all things baked. But to crown what Bread Yard has done with Hathaway as a pivot would be a vast understatement to all manners of pivots especially when the space is as gilded and meticulously curated as this.
Under Chef Tom Choong, formerly of Skirt at W Singapore Sentosa Cove, the menu makes good its bold claims of Asian Fusion fare—albeit occasionally. The efficacy of an Asian Fusion persuasion comes down to pairings that employ the best of Asian cooking methods and ingredients. There must be no love lost from either the Asian inspiration or the other culture it borrows from—both must be in complete equilibrium.
The Seared Scallops Genmaicha (S$32) exemplifies this philosophy perfectly. On the menu, the ingredients read like a what's what of the culinary world—Foley's Sea Scallops, Summer Pea Puree infused with Genmaicha Preserved Radish Chai Poh, Crispy Julienned Ginger—but is, in essence, seared scallops served thunder tea style. Surprisingly, it’s the bright julienned ginger that takes centre stage at times when the sea of green Genmaicha pea purée proves too monotonous a consumption.
I also enjoyed the Wagyu Beef & Chicken Skewers (S$24) for its chunky and large-and-in-charge personality, which I crowned the grown-up version of a good ole’ stick of satay. I miss satay with meat of this size (which I can only find in Johor) and will strongly support any petition to bring Singapore satay up to this size. At Hathaway, it’s packed full of familiar flavours and a bold char, with no shortcuts taken on taste and presentation whatsoever. It’s no surprise this proficiency given Chef Choong’s expertise in handling grilled meats during his tenure at Skirt.
While his experience over the grill shows in Hathaway’s meat offerings, it does little for a dish like the Langoustine Tartare (S$32) that badly needed a touch of something pickled to lift the entire presentation. Texturally it ticks all the boxes—soft from the langoustine, crispy from the tapioca pearl chip—but flavour wise, I desperately wish for less restraint from the lemongrass and galangal infusion.
Mains are a riotous experience of all things big and beautiful—it’s obvious these dishes are meant to be shared. Get Ah Nya’s Fish Curry (S$32) for a taste of the familiar. It has subtle remnants of rempah that shows it has been dutifully and methodically cooked down till ‘pecah minyak’, a technique that draws out the flavour of the curry paste and signifies peak intensity of taste.
My only gripe with this is that I wanted it to have a touch more acidity to evenly and adequately balance out the creaminess of the gravy, so it tastes less like a red lemak cili padi, and more like the curry it aspires to be. But this is a heritage recipe from the family, and I know better than to muck around with tradition.
Elsewhere, the Octopus Bakar & Sambal Udang (S$42) sits on a bed of charred polenta that could do with a tad more seasoning, given its placid nature. It’s something I’m beginning to realise the more dishes I try here—this careful restraint for fear of over seasoning. Perhaps my palate has been spoiled rotten by the likes of Caffe Fernet’s pasta and Zafferano’s scampi.
Polenta aside, the Octopus could do with a bit more ease; there’s a resistance to the meat that is much too much. It’s forgivable though, because these prawns, honey, they are a gift to humanity. It’s plump, juicy, and overbearingly large—not that I’m complaining. There’s also a fiery spiciness that slowly creeps up on you as the entire dish finishes; an intrusion I welcome with open arms.
And then there’s the dessert—Seri Muka (S$16++). Oh, what I’ll give to be alone in a room with this on a Saturday evening, bingeing on the latest episode of I Told Sunset About You. There’s a block of seri muka (also more commonly known as Puteri Salat) that sits on a pool of creamy pengat pisang, with a scoop of Apom Berkuah ice cream. It reminds me so much of Candlenut’s Kueh Salat, but with a tad more approachability. Everything on this plate is sweet—but to varying degrees—with a particularly subtle saltiness that tumbles everything so poetically together.
My experience at Hathaway has been impressive—but I desperately wish for less restraint. Chef Choong has got a good thing running here, but this conservatism sometimes makes me wonder if everything on the menu has been crafted by the same culinary creative.
Where he's confident, it shows—in dishes like the beef and chicken skewers and the fish curry. But uncertainty is Hathaway’s Achilles Heels, not uncommon with new restaurants, what more one borne out of a brave pivot. The good news is, there’s only one way from here—and that is up. And when Hathaway at Dempsey finally reaches its peak, they can be sure that this food writer will be back.
Website | 13 Dempsey Hill #01-07 S249674
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