SINGAPORE — First I want to wish myself a Happy 1st Birthday to commemorate my one year as a food writer for Yahoo Lifestyle SEA. Cue the balloons, the cake, the lone candle. As I blow out the metaphorical candle, I don't wish for much except for a world where a COVID-19 vaccine is found, masks are not mandatory, and although without the threat of infection, people still keep a respectable social distance away from me, thank you very much.
What better way to commemorate this day by revisiting one of the first few places I've reviewed back in a time where restaurants packed tables and chairs within a space mainly for economic considerations and reverence towards a healthy profit and loss sheet. When I heard that SPRMRKT is unveiling a new vegetable-forward menu, I knew I had to drop by and see what the fuss is all about.
That's how I find myself, on this first birthday, back at SPRMRKT, not at the far-flung STPI outfit (which has since shuttered), but at a spanking new space up on Dempsey Hill, where they count as neighbours other fabulous establishments such as Min Jiang, PS. Cafe, Baker & Cook, and White Rabbit.
A menu that is vegetable and produce-forward seems hardly out of place in 2020. Granted, back in 2019, some of the food I've tried takes subtle inspiration towards a movement of clean-eating-save-the-planet-kumbayah-around-a-tree and conscience consumption. What this translates into were dishes with meat or protein front and centre, and a side salad and micro herbs that were locally grown. I mean, it was pre-COVID-19, and the general public was more concerned about the cohesiveness of their Instagram feed than the carbon emission from transporting that Wagyu beef from down under to Singapore.
It makes what SPRMRKT (vowels omitted to reflect a focus on what's most important) does with a vegetable-forward menu very reflective of the current time. I honestly cannot think of anything more 2020 than an elevated consciousness about what we put in our body, paired with an innate sense of consequence—an understanding that everything we do, including what we eat, does have an impact on this planet, though the ripple itself seems so far removed.
Another thing to remember when eating here is that the food is not made for posing on Instagram. A starter of Kim Chi Dip with a side of brown Flaxseed (S$12++) crackers and long and thin cucumber crudités that have been seasoned ever so lightly comes almost in the rawest of form. With these, you scoop up the dip that's made of kimchi and Australian cream cheese and brimming with all the tangy, salty, and creamy goodness that comes with the marriage of two types of fermentation.
There's a plate of largely cut double-fried tofu fries (S$12++)—soft on the inside but not too soft that it crumbles, and then coated with a delicately seasoned batter. It is served with a lip-smackingly glorious garlic aioli that still retains whiffs of garlic which is slightly pungent, but beautifully so. This one's addictive, believe me.
Elsewhere, I see a smattering of eggplant on eggplant action that is completely PG-13 despite my cheeky attempt at its description. In the menu, it's labelled simply as Japanese Eggplant (S$12++)—Nasu for those in the know—and prepared two ways: cut into strips and deep-fried, and another, baked with a dehydrated shio kombu with hints of the ocean.
There's also honey-yoghurt hidden in plain sight, in the same shade of China it's in, which you are obliged to hunt. Sure, the eggplants presented two ways are inspiring, but that honey-yoghurt is what I'm here for. It's sweet, creamy, luscious, and though texturally sinful to the lips, makes for such a great dip with all this moreish Nasu action going on in the plate.
I also enjoyed the Twice Cooked Butternut (S$12++), which I initially thought was battered chicken that has been fried. Moderately-sized butternut is given the loving treatment of honey and soy sauce, which makes the already sweet vegetable even sweeter. These morsels of sweetness sit on a bed of black, unpolished barley and farro, which is serving all sorts of nutritional, good-for-your-gut type of goodness that your body will be eternally grateful for.
For mains, there's a Cauliflower & Broccoli Cous Cous (S$24++) that has been given the treatment of traditional fried rice—butter, minced garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. But what makes it the star dish this evening is the casual addition of fried capers which packs so much salty punch in such a tiny little package.
The addition of small rectangles of pan-fried Halloumi with its complex flavours and creamy, salty presence only serves to elevate the brilliance of this dish and might even make you forget that there are minimal pesky carbs to get in your way of a healthy dinner.
The first non-vegetable dish I have tonight is the grilled Hamachi (S$29++) collar that has been very simply seasoned with salt and pepper and then grilled till beautifully char. It's an immaculate tasting fish that needs little else than lots of tender loving care over the stove to coax its subtle buttery flavours to the fore.
On the other hand, desserts are a celebration of all things sweet and comforting. It comes by way of a huge, other-worldly portion of a Durian Semifreddo Sandwich (S$10++)—a fitting tribute to the ice-cream sandwich we often see sold by the ice-cream uncle on his roving bike.
Here, the sandwich is in the shape of a crunchy gluten-free taco with a slab of fragrant Mao Shan Wang frozen mousse. Yes, it's gluten-free because, in 2020, desserts too should be inclusive.
There's also a Tiramisu (S$12++) that's as typical as you might imagine, but here, ladyfinger biscuit is swapped with a vanilla sponge and liberally soaked with SPRMRKT's aromatic cold brew black coffee. It's predictable but comforting in so many ways. And after a vegetable-forward dinner like this, there's really nothing like a familiar dessert as a reward for treating the body like a temple.
Website | Blk 8 Dempsey Hill #01-15A Singapore 247696
Mon – Sun: 8am – 10pm (last kitchen order at 9pm)
Balancing the New Normal: