At a small shop house unit along the busy stretch of Jalan Besar, near well-known names like Ponggol Nasi Lemak and boutique hotel Kam Leng, is a new private restaurant that provides fine dining experiences.
It’s called Subrosa, and it’s rather unexpected — and a tad bewildering — to find the unassuming entrance among all the other affordable and mid-range eateries of the area, but we suppose it does the trick of ushering you into its intimate, quiet space, away from the outside bustle.
Don’t expect stunning, picture-worthy interiors once you step in, though. Yes, everything is in its place: tables are covered in white linens, and plush seats beckon you to sink in. But, the choices in decor are slightly questionable (at least to us — taste is subjective, after all). Let’s just say Subrosa wants to appear grand, but stops short at gaudy: red napkins are folded in the shape of roses, flanked by purple-hued chairs and complemented by gold and electric blue roses housed in individual glass domes on each table.
Other than all that, the place isn’t overly decorated, with simple black-and-white photos lining dull brown walls, all of which add up to quite a confused color palette.
Perhaps those Beauty and the Beast rose lookalikes were inspired by the restaurant’s name, which is derived from the Latin word “sub rosa” and means “under the rose.” Apparently its origins come from a practice from olden times when people met up in secret, hence the concept of a private dining space that only seats a couple tables.
But Subrosa essentially functions like a regular restaurant. Diners are encouraged to make their reservations at least 48 hours in advance, since each day’s menu changes according to the ingredients available to the kitchen team. Dishes are made from scratch and tailored to your preferences, and constructed around your dietary restrictions. Expect a meal here to set you back from $108 per person for the five-course set, to $148 per person for the seven-course one.
If you’re looking for a venue that’s actually private, the shop house’s second floor seats up to 20 guests, with customized menus and a minimum spend of $1,000 for use of its lounge and dining area.
Design details and ambience aside, the service at Subrosa is stellar, and its food doesn’t lag too far behind. A changing cuisine that’s vaguely described as east-meets-west, with a focus on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and familiar flavors, the menu is the brainchild of executive chef Steven Snowdon, who’s from London, and consulting chef Francis Lee, a Singaporean native.
You start off choosing your bread roll from a selection made in-house, paired with a wonderfully fragrant truffle butter (the proper stuff, not the aromatic oil). Following that, each dish is beautifully plated and well-portioned to give you enough of a taste without taking up too much stomach space.
Subrosa’s creations include cured scallops with fermented melon balls, pickled cucumber, and caviar as a refreshing and zesty starter, and a “cocktail” of shredded crab with foam-like aerated shrimp, coconut flakes for crunch, and a side of “bloody mary” tomatoes that have been marinated in a mix of Sriracha, vinegar, and chilli oil for a couple weeks.
Snowdon, who emerges from the kitchen several times to add the final trimmings to various dishes, comes across as earnestly sincere about what he whips up in the kitchen. If you get the chance to, ask him about his food and he’ll tell you what goes into each dish, right down to the detail.
As a rendition of the steamed fish dish you usually get with ginger and soy sauce at Chinese restaurants, Quaking Cod That adds a layer of seaweed to the sous vide seafood and lets it swim in a duck consommé that’s a little salty, topped with fried shallot. The bird appears again in Whats up Duck as a cured meat that’s nicely tender and surrounded by carrots in various forms, so flavorful it doesn’t feel like a chore to eat your veggies.
Snowdon’s version of Hokkien mee, offered here with lobster chunks and stock, is served with a separate side of fried pork lard, a scoop of gloriously spicy sambal, and a lime wedge. Remember Mee may lack that “wok hei” (charred aroma/flavor) we’ve come to know and love from our hawkers, but still, it’s a decent plate that deserves all the chilli you can spam.
For a sweet end, Tropical Passion isn’t the cloying, saccharine type of dessert you may be accustomed to. Instead, the lovely plate of passion fruit sorbet, coconut panna cotta, mango slices, lime jelly, and coriander flowers gives you that lingering taste of sugar without the accompanying heaviness, so you leave Subrosa on a pleasant high.
Subrosa is at 369 Jalan Besar
MRT: Bendemeer/Farrer Park
This article, Subrosa: Private fine dining in a small shop house space at Jalan Besar, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!