SINGAPORE — It's lunchtime at The Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar, and I am thoroughly entertained by a group of ladies lunching at a table nearby within earshot. Today, they are dressed to the nines with their flowing kaftans, tres chic dresses, and big hats, clutching chunky and bejewelled phone cases. It's hard to tell what exactly they're talking about amid boisterous and playful laughter that permeates the space and rings sharply in the air. It's like a scene straight out of Sex and the City. Watching these convivial ladies in their natural habitat makes the trek up the short hill of Dempsey worth every bit of effort.
Not that Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar is in itself not worth the climb (ala Miley Cyrus circa 2009). Cloaked in accents of black and white monochromes, the restaurant is the epitome of grayscale sensibilities. Its stark lack of colour makes any small hue of brightness pop, which makes the space perfect for those of us who live and swear by the 'gram. Vast lantern-esque lamps that are obviously much too much for this space hang precariously from the roof via steel cables, giving it the magical effect of being kept afloat. It's all very opulent and very aesthetics.
Which surprises me when the food is anything but. Under the expert hands of world-renowned Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the menu tethers on the edges of incredible lightness. Such that when a dish lists chillies as one of its ingredients, it's less overt presence and more of an inspiration. For someone with a palate that craves bold and adventurous flavours, I find myself strangely intrigued by the delicateness of each dish on their new lunch menu.
Take, for example, the Hamachi salad which comes with a soy chilli dressing made of white soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, yuzu juice and chilli oil. Dempsey Cookhouse prides themselves on their four housemade chilli oils. For this iteration, the oil is made with Korean Chilli Powder in a process that involves pouring the heated oil over spices and seeds. When combined with slices of raw Hamachi, crunchy leaves, and creamy avocado, what you get is a touch of spice that lingers for a split second at the back of your throat before dissipating into nothingness.
Elsewhere, a bowl of guacamole with peas promises the flavours of charred, peeled, and deseeded jalapeños. But what you get instead is a delightful dip that leans more on the sweetness of peas than the heat of jalapeños. It is served with a side of warm tortillas which can be swapped out for crudites for a healthier, gluten-free option.
There's also a white bean soup served with pancetta and dill which is naturally comforting. Similarly, one of the ingredients is chilli oil, but don't let that scare you. It's used in a miniscule amount that doesn't detract from the finesse of the slow-cooked beans or the chiffonade of kale.
But my favourite is hands-down the crispy calamari. First, it's tender to a fault. Which I know is a texture that is hard to achieve with squid cut to this size. Secondly, it's breaded and fried for the perfect crunch and seasoned with an inventive sesame salt which mainly, is toasted white sesame seeds grounded with salt. It comes with the most addictive Yuzu dipping sauce—a perfect blend of creamy, acidity, and savoury all in a mound of aerated foam. There's also thinly sliced pickled green chilli dotting each calamari, which thankfully, is the type of heat I can taste and appreciate.
Thankfully the new selection of mains brings with it flavours that are bold and bright. I particularly enjoyed the veal Milanese that comes in the form of a thinly pounded Australian veal that is coated with panko breadcrumbs and fried. It comes served with a bright arugula salad that sits on the side with cubes of baked sweet potatoes What makes this simple dish so tasty is the generous sprinkling of salt and black pepper on the crust upon serving.
For an additional S$8++, the grilled pork chop is a heroic dish that is equal parts tender and hearty. While the slab of pork is beautifully seasoned and carefully grilled, the star of this dish is the crunchy fried potatoes. It sits amongst a reduction of red bell peppers that have been cooked with onions, tomatoes, and a dash of sherry vinegar. There's a manifest presence of tart here that is a delightful balance to the gamey pork and is easily one of my favourite plates for the afternoon.
There's also a deeply herbed housemade tagliatelle served with roasted brussel sprouts, crushed pistachios, and a generous pool of pistachio pesto the colour of fresh-cut grass. The traditional pine nuts have been swapped for pistachios which make this a dream for my best friend who's a pistachio addict.
I am deeply intrigued by the salted caramel ice cream sundae simply because the ice cream has a distinct burnt sugar taste to it that is so addictive. Sure, it's sweet. And yes, it's salty. But it's that delightful bitterness that makes this the best salted caramel ice cream I've had the honour of consuming. That it comes with caramelised popcorn, peanuts, and hot fudge is a lucky coincidence because that ice cream can stand all on its own. No questions asked.
I must give accolades to the rhubarb and lychee trifle because, well, it's rhubarb. There's only a handful of places in Singapore that serves this underrated fruit and for Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar to incorporate it into a dessert in two different forms—a compote and a sorbet—is audacious. There's a clear labour of love that comes from assembling seven individual layers only to have it all go unappreciated. From top to bottom, we have a lychee and elderflower jelly, housemade ladyfingers sponge, poached rhubarb compote, whipped vanilla chantilly, almond streusel, lime meringue, and finally, housemade lime marshmallow. Indeed, this dessert deserves an entire dedicated review.
The new weekday lunch menu is available from Monday to Friday and offers a two-course set at $38++ and a three-course set at $42++ inclusive of coffee or tea. The new A La Carte Dinner Menu is available daily with dishes starting from $20++, while the 'Taste of Dempsey' tasting menu is at $138++ per person with an additional $68++ for wine pairing.
Monday to Friday: 12pm - 3pm (Last seating 2:30pm)
Brunch: Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays: 11:30am – 4pm (Last seating 3pm)
*Afternoon menu available on Sunday, 3:30pm – 5pm
Monday to Thursday and Public Holidays: 6pm – 12am (Last seating 10pm)
Friday, Saturday & Eve of Public Holidays: 6pm – 1am (Last seating 11pm)
Sunday: 6pm – 10pm (Last seating 9pm)
Monday to Friday: 12pm – 3pm,
5pm – 12am, Saturday: 11:30am – 1am
Sunday: 11:30am – 11pm