SINGAPORE — One night, after dinner at Hans Im Gluck at Orchard Road and on the way back to the MRT station, my dining partner remarked how void of a crowd this part of town is on a weekday night. He’s not wrong. Walking through the underpass that conveniently connects all the major malls in Singapore on a Tues night is, in some ways, surreal. I reckon it’s less due to changing dining habits and more because of rising COVID-19 pandemic numbers within the community keeping Singaporeans firmly at home.
Where I find myself at a lot these few months instead is the neighbourhood of Telok Ayer where restaurants, bars, and cosy speciality restaurants open faster than you can say “travel bubble with Hong Kong”. Clearly, this pandemic is doing a lot of good to the vibrant F&B scene in Singapore, as evident not just by new openings but also several revamp and restoration of existing joints, swiftly gutted from the inside and refurbished to accommodate a more contemporary, and hopefully more promising concept.
It doesn’t get more promising than what Park Bench Deli (PBD) has done with their space—renowned for their bevy of artisanal sandwiches and seating no more than 15 diners, shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek. It’s the kind of space food critics deign to label as small—cosy, homely, anything but small, please. All that is now firmly in the past, as PBD ushers in a new era of dining with a rejuvenated 42-seater interior that now accommodates proper dine-in, all day and night.
The new interior is the handiwork of Dean Chew from DRAWN—a space punctuated by clean lines, tables and furniture in white and brown, and a kitchen and bar that runs the length of half the restaurant floor plan. A new mise en scene naturally calls for a refreshed menu, here, curated by founder and director Andrei ‘Drei’ Soe, newly-minted head chef Matt Kuhnemann, and senior chef Ben Phoon.
A refurbished interior is a good enough reason to introduce new menu options that build on PBD’s sandwich philosophy that has kept the lights on since it opened six years ago. There’s a McRib Sandwich (S$10++) that sounds positively and delightfully imposing. It’s a simple assembly of pork ribs topped with pickles and sandwiched between two thin slices of white bread. There’s a bold caramelised char in all of this though I wonder if it could benefit from having a bit more juiciness throughout.
The Corn Dog (S$6++) is the kind of thing your doctor would recommend judicious refrain—there’s a generous slather of Parmesan Mayo here. Not that it should stop you from ordering one. But maybe just one to pair with any drinks from PBD’s expanded bar program headlined by Jeremy Chua and features craft beers, natural wines, and a brief but creative cocktail program.
If you’re new to the culinary auspices of PBD, I’d recommend the Grilled Cheese (S$15++)—a praiseworthy introduction to all things PBD. It is wedged between toasted sourdough, blue cheese, cheddar, and mozzarella meld into one creamy and decadent whole without it being too excessively cloying. It helps that there are slices of prosciutto that assertively cuts through all that fatty mouthfeel and pickled onions for a subtle nuance of acidity and brightness. All in all, an academically sound sandwich.
PBD’s refurbishment brings proper plates of mains that need more than just hands and grubby fingers—bring in the forks and knives. Cutlery in a sandwich joint? I’d never! But here, it’s to good cause because the Smoked Pork Collar (S$28++) I tried was a proper work of art through and through. It’s probably PBD’s best addition since it’s reopening with meat that has been cooked and smoked beautifully. It comes served with grilled collard greens on top that are blanketed with opaque lardo sheets, which really elevates the entire plate to heroic proportions. Also, it’s enormous. This whole plate is big, almost elephantine—not that it bothers me one bit, of course.
Desserts come by way of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (S$10++) that will have fans of this childhood classic clamouring for a good last bite. Is it the most innovative iteration for desserts? Not exactly. But it’s chocolate, and what kind of monster doesn't like chocolate, am I right? However, what PBD could do is temp down the sweetness a tad and add an element of acidity or brightness to balance the whole affair.
I might be unfairly judging this dessert cup, perhaps expecting too much of a friendly and cosy sandwich shop. But with this revamp, PBD is no longer just a corner joint serving up toothsome fare for frazzled office workers. It’s PBD’s new age of food, and so it has to be judged and critiqued on the same level as all the other restaurants within the vicinity. Not that they have anything especially dire to worry. Loyal customers will come in droves, and if PBD stays true and continue applying the same culinary philosophy they accord to their sandwiches, I reckon they’ll be here at Telok Ayer Street for a long time to come.
Instagram | 179 Telok Ayer Street, S068627
Tue to Sun lunch: 9am – 10.30pm
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