SINGAPORE — As a new party kid at the hills of Dempsey, Moonbow has huge, glamorous, towering Louboutin heels to fill. It's a task made all the more ominous when a trip up to this part of town is an exercise in intentionality instead of a happy coincidental curiosity aroused in between meetings and moments of self-reflection on foot.
It gives me slight trepidation the scale of this production, now sitting shoulder to shoulder with neighbours, Mediterranean superstar Blu Kouzina and PS.Cafe's Asian-Fusion baby, Chopsuey Cafe. Stepping in, you come face to face with an interior decked in rich hues of blush, white walls, and floor decked out in intersectional grids of black and white. It's all very "Well, how do you do, Sir?" vibes mixed with a dawning realisation that we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. We're not.
Adding to this impression of grandiose is a ceiling height that I'm positive could fit a tractor if they tried. It's a poetic contrast further magnified by tables and chairs that stand on black pencil-thin legs as if balancing precariously between wanting to be pretty and demanding to be taken seriously as a culinary powerhouse.
The Culinary commander-in-chief here is 52 years old Chef Heman Tan who counts, amongst his gastronomical-leaning resume, a passion for triathlon, ceramics, and nutrition. As co-owner of Moonbow, Chef Heman brings to the table a menu of Modern European persuasion with a strong and unique Asian influence, which, at times, does seem a tad too foolhardy for what he wants to achieve in this gilded mise en scene.
Make no mistake. The food here is plated for the Instagram crowd who relish a curated feed that at times borders on slightly aesthetic-obsessive. But as someone who has spent a large portion of 2020, seeing first-hand some of my favourite restaurants close down due to lease disputes, pretty food, understandably, leaves me jaded.
No matter. Here, it is undeniably the Asian aspects of these fusion endeavours, though more apparent in the mains than the appetisers, that, to the keen observer of food, can come across as slightly overcompensating. Like the Moonbow Oyster Bay (S$10++/piece) with a Yuzu so bright as if to hide the very nature of the mollusc. Or the Heart of Palm (S$23++) with an incredibly forward Balsamic dressing that desperately needs balance, regardless of how creative the treatment of stem.
A plate of Cauliflower Bloom (S$25++) is a confusing paean to cauliflower in all the floret’s shape and form. There’s cauliflower dehydrated, blitzed into a couscous, blended into a purée and then served with crumbs of mixed nuts and garlic and hollandaise with a subtle hint of garlic. What it has going for it is textures, an effort I do appreciate, though quickly overlooked with a wanton need for salt.
There are, of course, fleeting moments of culinary brilliance if you wait and squint hard enough. The Garden of Escargot (S$23++) pays suitable homage to snails, here delicately seasoned with garlic and served with bright lychee pearls and edamame mash the colour of young grass. I dare say I haven’t had escargot this flavourful before. It’s so easy to like.
The Jerusalem Artichoke (S$25++) soup is also a surprising bomb of flavours which now convinces me that Chef Heman is capable of bold seasoning if he wants. Here, the vegetable has been puréed till incredibly smooth and creamy with a mouthfeel that seesaws between a delicate lightness and, with the mixing of sous vide egg, an endearing and velvety heaviness. I especially appreciated the savouriness of caviar and the textural crunch of sunchoke chips in this bowl—it’s been a while since I had soup this good.
Here at Moonbow, mains are a large and in-charge kind of affair, and at some parts, quite well worth the effort. Because of its elephantine proportions, I reckon some offerings are best shared, like the Tomahawk de Swine (S$68++), which is unbelievably huge, expertly aged, and incredibly fatty.
The pork tomahawk chop comes glazed with a BBQ sauce, a bright and acidic pineapple compote, and a bulb of tender and aromatic roasted garlic—much welcomed to cut through all this luxurious mouthfeel. I would go as far as to say that in many ways, it’s a picture of perfection, but that’s probably due in large part to the majesty of the meat and less an attribute of creative cooking.
The same can be said about the 100-days grain-fed Angus Beef Short Ribs (S$68++) that have been smoked till fall-off-the-bone tender and flavourful to a fault. I can’t help but think that these two portions of meat are easy to impress an ordinary diner due to the quality of the produce. It’s like having a grand Steinway in a 4-room flat. It will take your breath away, but honey, that’s what Steinways do.
Elsewhere, the Black Silkie Poulet (S$38++) makes for an arresting sight with its shade of black stark against a yellow-green plate. I finished the entire bird but only because I appreciate any kind of chicken that has been brined. It also has a herbaceous edge, though I’m not quite a fan of having Bearnaise sauce sitting side by side with something this Asian-leaning. It’s fusion, no doubt, but one that needs more work on balance.
It’s the same situation with the Black Berry 4-Grain Healthy Rice (S$38++), where the lap cheong in the blackberry rice takes liberal inspiration from a claypot rice dish while the pork jowl sits firmly in the arena of Western cuisine. The rice is excellent, helped along by the hit of savouriness from the lap cheong, but the pork, while flavourful, could have more character so that it doesn’t veer on being boring and predictable. Also, the vegetables being this bland and unseasoned simply won’t do. Come on. It’s 2021. Season liberally, please.
Dessert comes by way of an entirely over the top Treasure Drawer (S$32++) where the sweets, cakes, tarts, and macarons overfloweth. Inside, it’s a who’s who of all things sweet-tooth—mango passion mousse, financiers, truffle cheese macaron, apple tartlets, and a spoonful of orange granita that is given a treatment of nitrogen tableside that turns it from liquid to slushie. It’s all very 2019, with a huge parade of things that seem designed to excite our inner child. I’d much prefer a singular plate of dessert, balanced in all its texture, taste, and, if I’m not asking too much, temperature.
For a first-time venture, Moonbow is ready and armed to impress. Contrary to impressions, the restaurant is not in the realm of fine dining—at least if prices are to be believed. It’s all very mid-tier and appropriate for its new home. It’s got a lot going for it, with missteps that are easily remedied with more feedback and due R&D. I say allow them time to impress—it's potential worth holding out for.
Website | Block 10 Dempsey Road, #01-21, Singapore 247700
Monday to Friday: 11.30am – 3.00pm; 6pm – 10.30pm
Saturday & Sunday: 10.00am – 3.00pm; 6pm – 10.30pm
Balancing the New Normal: