as-you’d-expect – which is to say, good for simple, filling meals – at this american tex-mex chain outlet at the central in clarke quay. let’s cut to the chase: this isn’t gourmet, and it’s not trying to be. it’s full-on american diner-steakhouse type food served in large portions, and it (almost singlehandedly, actually) fills a niche gap in the singapore dining scene that I think many of us didn’t know existed.
it’s casual dining in a large space with very-american-style diner booth seats, incredibly enthusiastic staff, and a boisterous atmosphere that lends best to loud gatherings (impression fostered also by their myriad alcohol promotions) – but all that aside, this place has a killer bread pudding: one of the best, most satisfying non-chocolate puddings I’ve had in a while.
in a food scene dominated by open kitchens manned by skinny tight-trousered intensely-styled chefs, this establishment feels a little out of place. at best, it’s esoteric; at most-impolite, it’s probably best described as crass. but.. that’s not necessarily as bad as it sounds, and not a bad thing neither. it’s (lack of supposed) pedigree is visible in the cheese-encrusted steaks and cheese-surrounded most-things-else – but it’s fun, you know.
I wouldn’t dress up to come here (and you don’t need to, either), but if your friends appreciate a loud place to indulge in margharitas and too-much food – this would be my best recommendation.
we started off with nachos and a salsa – the nachos had the slight grease and warmth of a fresh dip in the fryer, and came with a delicious salsa. slightly spicy, fresh-tasting with a good chunky tomato puree, I was eating this with a fork (the nachos were acceptable, but not nearly as good as the salsa).
followed by small breaded quesadilla triangles: cheese and chicken fried to a crispy golden. this was tasty and quite rich – and the chipotle sour cream it came with made it too cloying. best with that spicy salsa.
it was just about then that a bevy of very-smiley waitresses came out with their margharita mixers, shaking up some excitement with their new platinum president margharita. I’m no drinker – but this sweet concoction was pretty mild, and likely a good choice for wimps/newbies. you can even get the shaker for a cool fourteen dollars, if you’re into that sort of thing.
n.b. it strikes me that the very act of promoting merchandise in the midst of a meal tells you more about this establishment than I could.
we had the chance of trying out their new limited-period offerings that day – parmesan-and-monteroyjack-encrusted chicken or steak, and a bacon-and-cheddar-encrusted steak. (do you see what I mean with the cheese?) these were all pretty standard going – and really, it’s a slab of meat with stuff on top. it’s tough to go wrong with cheese – and it helped that the chicken was tender and juicy, and the steak came with a good pink middle.
as with most diners, you get a good choice of sides. it’s a long list to go on – but the fries were good, the loaded mash a comforting mound of spud topped with cheese, sour cream and bacon bits. for slightly healthier options, the broccoli was cooked al dente, and corn-on-the-cob was especially sweet and fresh (and especially delicious when someone slices it off the cob for you – thanks zeek!).
the most disappointing side was the smoked sweet potato – I was hoping for a sweet heft of carb, but it barely tasted of sweet potato. essentially an orange-colored spud. the long-grain rice here comes as dry, separated grains in two flavours: stick with the cajun over the cilantro (the latter is very mild-tasting and almost a little bland – plus not everyone likes that green flavour).
it’s taken me so many words to get to where I – and you, likely – wanted to go: the dessert. I was initially disappointed by the prospect of getting the bread pudding instead of the chocolate lava cake: most of the outside-home bread puddings I’ve encountered in singapore are part of a buffet spread, where they are either insufficiently soaked or cooked so long in the food warmers that they attain brick-like status – served alongside a mediocre custard that fails to hide any sins.
but this one, good god. it was moist, and wobbly, with a slightly-sweet custard soaked through a heft mound of bread – cut into very neat and more importantly, very large squares, drizzled with caramel and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and cinnamon. so incredibly delicious – it all sounds like it’d be too sweet, but it was remarkably restrained and very elegantly plated.
this could see its way well into a top-of-the-class restaurant, but those establishments will likely give you a tiny tasty portion – rather than the greed-satisfying gargantuan serving here. the cinnamon was a nice touch too – it provided just that extra something, and the only way this could have been better if the caramel was salted. but that’s major quibbling – it was delicious as is, and I give it a great compliment by telling you I didn’t miss the chocolate.
it’s a long post – but at the end of it, you really should come here for as americanesque a meal as you’re likely to get in singapore. the food is decent, and the prices aren’t cheap – but the portion sizes give it huge value (especially if you consider that the same money would bring you tapas-type servings in hippie places), and coming with a large group of friends will mean a good time.
or just come for margharitas and their dessert – I’m not sure if the bread pudding will make it to their regular menu (it really should) – the latter especially.
chilis (Central @ Clarke Quay)
#01-18 The Central
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
$$.5: (averagely) mains $20-40, starters $10-15, and the bread pudding for a omg-how-reasonable $13
p.s. run, don’t walk – the new menu lasts till 26 November (which means the banana bread pudding might be gone forever, the horrors!)
p.p.s. ordering two new items means 20% discount – always love a bargain!