Portico: Don't mess with the New Kid on the Block

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Singapore has no shortage of new restaurants and every visit back is a tepid attempt at playing catch-up with the newest, trendiest openings. Portico makes a soft entry with its secluded, austere hideaway of a location along Alexandra Road, a stones' throw away from the bustling hub of the Gilman Barracks. 

The brainchild of restaurateurs, Alicia Lin and Sean Lai (owners of Pasarbella's Cicely Kitchen and Le Patio respectively); it is evident that their creative individualism has evolved into a hybrid of sorts that brings 'home-dining' to a new level. The kitchen is run by Executive Chef Leandros Stagogiannis, his impossible tangle of a hair helmet teaming full of innovative menu items. With the Fat Duck and Saint Pierre under his belt of accolades, I expected no less than an exceptional meal.


The space glows with warm invitation to passer-bys, except there weren't any, given it's 'off the beaten road' location. Still, word of mouth works wonders as publicity here and the dining room is a riot on a weekday night.


The meal unfolds, or unravels on modest table tops. Chili Scented Blue Mussels and french fries ($14/$27). As much as the dish looked a pretty picture, we had an argument with several muted mussels conveniently stuffed at the bottom of the dish. The thin film of sauce could use a fresh insurgence of acidity as the spicy cream concoction lacked complexity. A trip back to the kitchen coaxed the remainder of the mussels into submission, their flesh rubbery from the excess heat treatment.


Far more prominent is the Roasted Bone Marrow, shallots, parsley, garlic and crispy bread ($20/$30);  the aroma of the dish, part animal fats and part herbs going directly from your nostrils to your brain. We devour this quickly with the expertly charred slices of crisp bread crackers.


And if you're like me, a no-nonsense raging carnivore, order the Red Wine Braised Wagyu beef cheek and bourguignon sauce ($27). Here, details elevate the honest braised beef; and its not just another brown sticky braise: the crisp snap of nashi pear, the smoky sweetness of the pearl onions, all sitting on that velvety smooth pomme puree. The Wagyu beef cheek is rendered to a heart aching tenderness, and I can't get it out of my mind. Wrestling with my gluttony, I did the unthinkable and shared a bit of the love with my neighbors (something that I came to regret almost immediately)


Chef Leandros Stagogiannis being of English background with Greek descent reflects on his heritage in this dish of Pork Belly Kebab with paprika fries, crusty bread and tsatziki ($13/$24). Understated cooking at its best. 

Like many new restaurants, Portico isn't strong across the board. Service can be rushed and not exactly polished; but despite the risks, Portico is fun and lively enough that I can imagine dropping in once a month or so for a braised beef cheek reunion, or perhaps give that lemon tart with onion ice cream a crack.

Portico
991B Alexandra Road
#01-10
Tel: 6276 7337

Black Swan: Warm Welcome

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Touching down after my flight back from Sydney, I was famished. The journey was a irritable few hours of cramped up spaces and furiously coughing neighbors; i earnestly needed to get my spirits lifted.

First on the agenda, Black Swan, to get that stomach filled.

Having been here before, I decided to explore the menu a little with the intention of uncovering some weak lines in the kitchen's repertoire. Cruel, I know.


We ordered the Half dozen escargots ($21) and it turned out to be an instance where luxury of the ingredients backfire on the simplistic charm of the original dish. Escargots with garlic butter and parsley is an old school delight that brings me back to my hay days spent feeling pish-posh over a hot plate of sizzling escargots at Jacks Place. This new rendition pushes the boundaries by incorporating not one but two more  belly busting ingredients, bone marrow and Parmesan into the mix. The result, a massive overkill of fat overload that drowned out the skimpy little morsel of earthiness. Disappointing.



Our main redeemed the establishments streamlined perfection of American cuisine with it’s Stockyard Australian Wagyu Ribeye steak for 2 ($96) well rested before being sliced, the innards were a shade of shy pink with a liberal coating of spices, salt and pepper on it’s browned sides. The creeping streaks of fats dances across the tongue with a teasing melt-in-your-mouth texture and the béarnaise sauce perfumed with tarragon and peppercorn was the perfect accompaniment to soft and subtle flavors of the wagyu. 

Service however was a bit shoddy as our side plates took more than 15 minutes to reach the table. Apart from that fiasco, dining in the Black Swan, surrounded by the grand statements of the 1930s decor and the fashionably dressed crowds certainly makes for a delicious experience.

The Black Swan
19 Cecil Street, The Quadrant
Singapore 049704
Tel: +65 81813305