SINGAPORE — At a media tasting one weeknight at Mott 32, a fellow food writer asked what restaurants are worth writing about. "Tiong Bahru Bakery," I replied earnest. "Errr, I'll pass," he says in the same tone as someone who hates brinjal. "I mean, it's Tiong Bahru Bakery," with words italicised to imply an emphasis on nonchalance. Sure, many hardly think of TBB as the epitome of dining. But to begin considering them seriously, one needs to understand the critical 'R' in dining: Rejuvenation.
When it first launched in 2012 at Eng Hoon Street, the country has yet to know or appreciate French pastries, which makes TBB's pronouncement of being the home of the handmade croissant not only brave but appropriate. I used to be a regular patron of their Raffles City outfit, which, though a tad dim, is central enough to while away the time after dinner with a good slice of pain au chocolat and a cup of painfully hip, home-grown label, Gryphon.
Slowly but surely, our little island started getting more saturated with more food options in a 200 meters radius than our hands can count. Overseas conglomerates began to realise that Singaporeans are food-curious and willing to spend on the latest and greatest dining experiences. Overnight, the popularity of TBB as the go-to place for the best French pastries, faded when other players started to bite into the proverbial pie of croissant par excellence. Even then, TBB's never shied away from the public eye, bravely revamping and rejuvenating their menu every chance they get. The result is a dynamic establishment that always stayed slightly under the radar yet dependable enough that you know they're never going to shutter.
That they now occupy almost 1/4 of the 4th floor of Funan is testament to TBB's strategy of understanding what diners want and boldly making menu changes as needed. This time, it features the fine culinary workings of one Chef Paul Albert who studied at Institut Paul Bocuse and climbed up the ranks at Michelin starred restaurants in France and Rio—from Restaurant Les Crayères in the heart of Champagne city to Rio de Janeiro's Restaurant Lasai.
What Chef Paul has done for TBB Diner is bring a renewed focus on vegan and vegetarian fare to the menu. And he does it with quite the aplomb. There's a Korean inspired Chayote Kimchi & Mung Bean Salad that comes in a heap of mung beans, chayote (a type of squash) and turnip kimchi, watercress, and pea shoots. For texture, Paul throws in crispy buckwheat and toasted peanuts.
A plate of Miso whole wheat spaghetti with broccolini is a vegetarian delight, and a nod to sustainability with every part of the broccolini used to good effect. The pasta is tossed with an earthy basil and almond pesto and served with a miso eggplant confit. The entire presentation has a surprising sweetness so that it doesn't feel like you're eating too much of a good thing. But if eating and feeling healthy is a top priority, have a go at the super green warm soup that tastes like the entire vegetable garden pulverised into a bowl. It's a cacophony of local vegetables—Chinese spinach, bak choy, chye sim, lady's finger—with a dollop of tart beetroot pickled ricotta. There are also toasted candlenut and sautéed shimeji, which though vastly different in flavour from the vegetables, does little to detract from the intensely earthy undertones of this bright green bowl of goodness.
Putting aside all things vegan or vegetarian, we have a plate of hot chicken salad and caramelised pumpkin that is all sorts of delicious and quite the innovation of taste. There is, of course, a tender and juicy chicken breast here, but what impresses is the refreshing addition of a mildly charred kabocha pumpkin confit, and herb pomelo salad served with a wicked Wasabi dressing.
My favourite in this new menu is the pulled pork creamy risoni pasta. First, I've never seen or tasted risoni pasta, so seeing this on a plate is intriguing. It's shaped like rice and, because of its small grain size, is not overwhelmingly starchy. Risoni clings so well to the sauce, here, made with pork jus so that it's sweet, intensely flavorful, and a wonderful complement to the tender pulled pork. I can't help but keep going back to this and eventually wiping every bit off.
Another dish I quite enjoyed was the savoury sourdough waffle not least because I've never had waffles this fluffy that doesn't leave me feeling like I've had much too much and that I should stop. I've dropped by TBB diner twice and had this exact dish again with two friends who poured their hearts out to me. What about, I don't recall. All I remembered was how faultlessly light this sourdough waffle is and if I should probably order something else next time. I ordered mine with a side of sausage so that it feels like a classic breakfast meal which, to be honest, is the best damn thing to eat at 1 pm or at any time in the day. Which is not something I'd say of TBB four years ago. TBB Diner is all grown up, honey, and attention must be paid.
Website | All-day dining menu available only at Funan & Raffles City
Funan | 107 North Bridge Rd #04-(22-25) Singapore 179105 | 8am to 9pm
Exclusively serving All-Day Dining menu
Mon to Fri: 11 am to 6.45 pm
Sat: 10 am to 8.45 pm
Sun: 10am to 6.45pm
Raffles City | 252 North Bridge Road #B1-11 Raffles City Shopping Centre Singapore 179103 | 8am to 10pm
Exclusively serving All-Day Dining menu
Sun to Wed: 9 am to 8.30 pm
Thur to Sat: 9 am to 8.45 pm