SINGAPORE — A trip to Maggie Joan's is, first and foremost, an exercise in intentionality. It is not the kind of restaurant that you happen to stumble upon unless your trade is that of trawling back alleys at all times of the day. I say this because Maggie Joan's currently holds the honour of being the first restaurant in Singapore to have a back entrance as the main entrance. It is located just off Gemmill Lane; its entrance indicated by a heavy metal door that blends in with the length of the white wall. There's no visible sign indicating its presence save for a copper punch sign that hangs perpendicular to the entrance, which at night, is intentionally elusive. It's glamorously discreet, and I live for it.
Stepping in is like entering a whole new other world. It’s dark, handsome, and brooding, illuminated by three skylights in the day, and at night, softly lit by strategically placed lamps that glow ember. The 50-seater mise en scène is dominated by dark woods every which way you look, exposed brick walls, and a white subway-tiled wall that wraps around the kitchen in a practical fashion. The kitchen, though narrow, rightfully, takes up almost half of the unit which is genuinely bewildering for the kind of food served, as I would soon find out.
When once it was helmed by Scottish chef Seumas Smith, it is now lead by Australian, Zachary Elliot-Crenn who brings with him a food philosophy brimming with lightness and an aesthetic that pays homage to his background as a pastry chef. A slim roll of chicken liver parfait (S$5++ each) comes dressed with crushed candied pistachios. Though it's exterior is reminiscent of a sweet dessert, the inside is anything but—filled with a creamy pâté of chicken liver that is a touch gamey and earthy with a very smooth consistency.
Coffin Bay Oysters (S$6++ each) are expectedly plump and served with the addition of Wasabi cream and fresh, palate-cleansing Parsley granita. Chef Zach tries to reinvent how oysters are consumed, and he succeeds. The granita adds a whole other level of sense and taste to an otherwise plain (but still remarkable) shell of a thing. Elsewhere, petite squash financiers (S$5++ each) comes piped with a bold purée of macadamia nuts and dressed with elegant ribbons of piquant grated Mimolette cheese that falls off the side quite dramatically.
A vegan offering of carrot tartare (S$20++) aims to replicate the experience of a beef tartare, here replaced with julienned carrots that have a faintly smoky flavour. It is interspersed with pickled mustard seeds which contrasts beautifully with the cream confit egg yolk. It's a flurry of texture and flavours and having to mix the egg in, chef Zach knows that the separate elements need to be strong, bold, and individualistic lest it disappears in the mix. And here it does so boldly and heroically.
When the red snapper (S$34++) arrives at my table, it was to zero fanfare. From the outlook, it's rather dull—and a tad pedestrian. Yet, I have been lulled into a false sense of judgment as its outlook is but a facade to a sophisticated presentation that truthfully, left me speechless. It's a fillet of red snapper served with a side of bakchoy which has been delicately charred to cut through the flavours sharply, albeit briefly. Dollops of black garlic jam bind the dish together and when mixed with dashi broth and parsley oil, is a heady mix of sweet, sour, and tart. The fish on its own is light which is the perfect accompaniment to every flavourful element on the plate.
The intimidatingly named Black Angus x Wagyu Beef (S$44++)—as if a collaboration of sorts—must, at this price point, be faultless. And it is. But any steak at a restaurant like this should be the epitome of perfection. To judge, I turn to the stuff it comes served with. Here, there's a brightness to sweet-glazed aubergine covered with a crispy, puffed dehydrated fried quinoa. It sits together with the sweet potato mash and rump cap steak on the perimeter of a swirl of earthy chicken jus and creamy sheep's milk yoghurt. The co-stars on the plate come together brilliantly to support the main cast of beautifully seared meat, not to overshadow but to complement boldly.
Desserts arrive shortly after a round of gossip and coffee. My eyes are immediately drawn to the quenelle of pale green which turns out to be tarragon ice cream. It makes complete sense—after all, I did start lunch with a parsley granita. The local papaya cake (S$12++) is stacked high and is a brilliant thing of a dessert. Who knew that the herbal undertones from tarragon and sweet papaya makes for such good friends?Papaya is a fruit oft-ignored, but here it shines in both taste and colour. It all sits on a simple olive cake and a puddle of creme fraiche that has been infused with pink peppercorns and papaya seeds.
Desserts like this make me weep in silent adoration because of the respect it's conferred. Kudos to Maggie Joan's for stealing the crown away from Merci Marcel's pineapple carpaccio, which, for a long time, was the only dessert I would talk about with other food writers. A fitting ending to a meal that would undoubtedly make Maggie and Joan proud.
Monday – Friday: Lunch, 12 pm – 2.30 pm; Dinner, 6 pm – 11 pm
Saturday: Dinner, 6 pm – 11 pm
Closed on Sundays