Back in the day, when Sam and I first started dating, we spent a lot of time by the waters near the Overseas Passenger Terminal. After all, the area was shut down due to renovations, meaning that we had a quiet area near the scenic waters to relax and get to know each other.
Well now that renovations are done and the dust has settled, Cruise Bar has reopened and looking to establish itself as a foodie destination. Touting a pan Asian menu on its second level (named Junk Lounge, named after the old world Hong Kong ships), Cruise Bar is jumping in with both feet…by offering Hainanese Chicken Rice.
DUN DUN DUNNNNN.
Because nothing throws down the gauntlet to a Singaporean like putting Hainanese Chicken Rice on the menu.
We started off with a selection from the bar menu, because it’s never as much fun when you go straight to the main event. 😉
Chef Richard Slarp – previously of Saké – clearly is a master of Japanese flavours and techniques. The Lotus Root Chips with Spicy Yuzu Salsa, $9, is a classy take on the beer snack, with salty crisps and a fresh, tangy topping spiced lightly with yuzu kosho: a Japanese condiment made from yuzu (a citrus that’s like a love child between grapefruit, lemons and oranges) and green chillies. Like nachos, but lighter, and Japanese.
The skewers of King Mushroom and Miso Glaze and Tsukune (chicken mince skewers) are also on point, with the chicken mince fall-apart tender and glazed with tosa-zu, a vinegar dressing that adds a light acidity to the mouthful. Like fairies prancing across your tastebuds. The yolk was sadly missing, but a quick chat with Richard revealed that he didn’t want to waste a whole chicken egg yolk on a single serving of skewer, which while understandable, kinda sucks because it means that you’re missing part of the experience. Especially when it’s printed on the menu.
Maybe a minimum order perhaps?
Other items also make a decent showing, with an impressive attempt at steamed rice rolls, otherwise known as cheong fun. You know those silky, translucent sheets of rice noodles that get rolled up with all sorts of amazing goodies at yumcha like a fragile asian parcel? Yeah, like that. Sure, it isn’t quite as thin and delicate as what we get from dim sum houses, but a spectacular effort for attempting such a difficult and finicky dish nonetheless. The result is something that is more similar to Vietnamese rice paper rolls, and that’s definitely a result that I can live with.
The food inspired by other parts of Asia, however, doesn’t fair quite so well. The Pork belly Banh Mi Slider, $7, is served on a brioche bun, which while buttery and rich, isn’t what you want from a banh mi. Vietnamese pork rolls have always been served up on fluffy French style bread, with a crust that explodes all over you the moment you take that first bite. The super soft brioche bun seems like a misguided attempt at fulfilling the public’s expectations for both a burger and a pork roll, and disappoints on both counts. The sous vide pork belly with the bun ended up eating really dry, and has none of the juicy – sometimes bordering of sloppy – bite that you want from your pork roll! Hint of mayo, no pate flavour… Needless to say this one was left unfinished.
And the main event: the Hainanese Chicken Rice, $36. Deceptively simple, the components to an authentic chicken rice are many: the rice, the chicken, the chilli, the ginger condiment, and the soup. The chicken, in this case, was overcooked. Traditionally, the chicken is poached in the residual heat of a big vat of chicken stock, and then unceremoniously plunged into ice water to halt the cooking process, resulting in silky flesh and a jelly-like quality to the white skin. Here, the chicken is simmered in chicken stock, and then left to cool in said stock, resulting in overcooked chicken. Added to the fact that chickens in Australia are super lean compared to those in Asia, you have a pretty dry bite. The rice and chilli was actually pretty spot on. The rice was cooked in chicken fat and stock- as all chicken rice should be – and the chilli (a fresh mixture of chilli and ginger pounded to a paste in a mortar and pestle) was the right mix of spice and freshness, and actually enhanced the experience. The ginger condiment was non-existent, and the soup carried a strange aftertaste of strong soy. Which while slightly out of place for my tastes, is perfectly acceptable in the variations of the dish.
Overall, not something I would revisit personally, though for $36, it is a fairly generous portion size and I love the theatrics of serving up the clear soup in a French press, so that you can savour it however you like.
Dessert came in the form of a MASSIVE sesame covered ball, with a sticky crust and a fluffy interior reminiscent of mung bean pastries of my youth. The coconut cream and strawberry pieces transport you to a warm holiday spot, and was actually pretty satisfying shared between two people.
I can see Cruise Bar as a great place to spend a Friday night out with friends – the small bites went down pretty well, and the small sizes allow you to pick and choose exactly what you’d like to have. They have some teething problems, sure, but I think that comes with any restaurant that is freshly opened. For example, the waitress, while cordial and polite, didn’t seem to have knowledge of the specifics of the menu – but that can be trained with time – and actually took down one of my orders wrong. Which is kinda not cool considering it was a pretty empty restaurant when we went. The chopsticks-only place setting proved slightly problematic when we were served rice with soup, and the very wide share table made it a touch awkward to share food, sometimes.
But it IS beautifully decorated, and looked out into the twinkling lights of the city, so the you can see just how much potential the experience could have! Just a few tweaks over time, and I’m sure it’ll be spectacular. But in the meantime, go the Japanese inspired dishes. Trust me.