SINGAPORE — Perhaps a lease issue at Neon Pigeon’s former home at Keong Saik was the best thing to happen to this household nightlife venue. In July 2020, Neon Pigeon bid adieu to their coop for the past five years at Keong Saik Road, teasing a version 2.0 of a new mise-en-scene and a menu with the same great approach to drinking and dining.
It was a fun campaign of discovery on their Instagram page that started on 12th October, fronted by a mysterious lady in a hoodie, holding up a Neon Pigeon sign, and taking pictures in front of shop units currently boarded up and undergoing renovation beyond the wood-board facade. After several Instagram posts of clues, #whereisneonpigeon revealed their new home at 36 Carpenter Street, at the base of co-working space, The Hive.
I celebrate this move partly because Neon Pigeon is probably the most exciting thing to happen to Carpenter Street (a close second behind Lumo, of course), injecting some much-needed dose of nightlife into this street populated mainly by hotels, language schools, a fitness centre, and SAFRA. Yes. There’s a SAFRA dining club here which I reckon exists purely as a branding exercise of sorts.
It’s not hard to spot Neon Pigeon from whichever side of Carpenter Street you enter—its facade, a darkened five-panel window frame that gives no clue nor indication as to the type of riotous shenanigans that goes on behind this blanket of black. At one end, a heavy, sound-isolating door swings open to a space that screams and bleeds hip.
On my visit, Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold pumps out solid bass beats that bounce off these walls, some filled with an artistic burst of graffiti, and others painted black to exude a certain kind of too-cool-for-school kind of vibe. It’s raunchy, it’s raw, and, for a while, a secret only privy to the most discerning.
Of course this being Neon Pigeon, drinks are at the centre of its ideation, and by that, I meant both figuratively and literally. The bar counter is situated in the middle of all this revelry, flanked by tables and chairs in oak on one side, and on the other, plush settees that afford you a view of the outside. Here, Singaporean Chef Paul Lim heads the kitchen, bringing with him the gastronomical inklings of Fat Prince Kafe-Bar-Kebab—whose kitchen he also currently leads—while respecting the modern izakaya leanings of Neon Pigeon.
At Neon Pigeon, the sharing plates, while communal, are still treated with a reverence reflective of Chef Paul’s dedication to food and a commitment to a rich flavour profile that is so 2020. A plate of Kumamoto Oysters (S$16++ for two) come filled with smoked dashi gelee, ponzu and a dash of chilli that is subtly mild.
The whole thing is also beautifully salty. Like the Tokyo Hummus (S$10++ for small, S$16++ for large), made not with chickpeas, but edamame, and served with a side of curry chips that has also been lovingly seasoned. The bowl of green comes covered with a blanket of furikake that lends such a bold note of umami; it gets me giddy with excitement just typing this out. I would have ordered some home in a bottle if I could.
The Charcoal Grilled Asparagus (S$15++ for small, S$28++ for large) is some serious commitment to all things stem. Asparagus and Broccoli stems are grilled till nicely charred such that it adds a layered bitterness to the entire presentation. It’s the most evident impression of texture yet with puffed rice added for bite.
I recommend you dutifully scrape the bottom of the bowl for a swipe at the black Goma paste in all its sweet and earth splendour. It all goes so incredibly well with the citrus notes from the Ponzu. All this effort just for stems? I’m living, honey. I am living.
Elsewhere, there’s a bowl of Togarashi Monkfish (S$23++ for small, S$44++ for large) in a bright hue of orangey-red Korean army stew, probably to indicate its spiciness. And boy is this thing spicy. It fills my mouth with an intensity that is hardly preempted or with consent.
But, as someone who loves being delightfully surprised, it is a sensation I embrace with open arms. If the sauce gets much too much for your spice-averse friend, I would advise a generous helping of the smoked tofu purée at the bottom for quick comfort.
I wanted to like the Grilled Duck Breast (S$19++ for small, S$36++ for large) more. Instead, it became an exercise of “it could-be’s”. Sure, the aroma is intoxicating when it arrives at the table, but this dish could do with a touch more curry while the duck breast could be cooked more towards medium-rare doneness. This current iteration seems too much like a mere idea or an aspiration rather than a finished product. Sadly, even the fukujinzuke couldn’t save the overall mouthful.
Which led me to wonder why the fukujinzuke was not used in the Sweet Corn Rice instead. Made with Spanish bomba rice, this plate is pleasantly and sufficiently sweet, but I’m sure it could do much better with a bit of brightness from pickles since everything is so thoroughly creamy. That aside, it’s a plate that exudes familiarity and approachability so if you’re here at Neon Pigeon and ever at a loss for that one final selection for dinner, you won’t go wrong with this.
Desserts come by way of a Yuzu Brulee (S$12++) with its trappings of all things citrus and sweet. There’s an innovative miso granola in there that saddles sweet and savoury quite beautifully. But I reserve the highest praise for the architecturally crafted Bonsai 3.0 (S$13++) for being a chocolate dessert that I can seriously get behind. It’s impeccably balanced in flavour, colour, and textures and, more importantly, does not overly rely on chocolate for finesse.
The bonsai moniker is derived from the matcha soil the dark chocolate mousse sits on while the honeycomb lends a complex and layered sweetness that begs silence and deep reflection on all things dessert. If you can’t already tell, I cannot recommend this enough.
Version 2.0 of things are usually polarising in that loyal fans would tend to cry nostalgia, while new diners judge any lapses fiercely. What Neon Pigeon gets right is in having a chef that immerses his food philosophies with the DNA of the original iteration while taking strident steps in establishing originality at the new mise-en-scene. Is everything perfect? Not yet. But it is that very possibility of perfection that keeps me coming back and gets me giddy with excitement every single time.
Website | 36 Carpenter St, #01-01, S059915
Mon to Sun: 11.30am – 2.30pm; 5.30pm – close
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