Our team goes undercover to suss out the latest and most talked about restaurants in town
Small plates? Check. On-trend underground den-like space? Check. Upbeat lounge tunes? Check. Conceptualised by Michael Goodman (former head chef of Aman Hotels in Bali and Dubai), Rohit Roopchand (restaurateur behind Hong Kong’s Fatty Crab) and Michael Macnab (media-savvy digital promoter who has worked with BMW and Ben & Jerry’s), Neon Pigeon has all the makings of the newest It hotspot.
Starters, or Bird Feed as Neon Pigeon calls them, run the gamut from easy snacks such as chilled cucumber with crushed chilli peanuts, nori and goma ($8) to the questionable chicken liver mousse paired with yuzu kosho marmalade ($16). It’s a good start – my companions and I find ourselves hopelessly addicted to the former’s umami-laced crunch and pleased at how well the tangy spread of the latter complemented creamy liver mousse, with cereal crust lending a welcome textural mouthfeel. Stay away from the smoked pork buns ($11) and smokey eggplant ($9), however, as the pork was disappointingly dry and bland while the eggplant was lacklustre and accompanied by not-so-crisp lotus chips.
Crispy Brussels sprouts ($12) with mirin glazed bacon and karashi (Japanese mustard sauce) on the side seemed like a foolproof combination, but the sprouts were just slightly overdone, yielding a dash of bitterness. We also expected the bacon’s salty flavours to be more prominent. The grilled shishito ($9) fared better, even to a capsicum dissenter such as myself. Lightly blackened and seasoned, the peppers were made even more irresistible when topped liberally with crisped fried shallots. The soups, though limited in variety, are equally encouraging – the miso black cod ($10) was a homely brew that savoured strongly of smoked dashi, while the Hokkaido buttered corn soup ($8) was a layered concoction of piquant, meaty and sweet flavours.
The mains don’t disappoint, but neither are they swoon-worthy enough to warrant a return visit. The slow-cooked octopus ($18), a dish every other small plates establishment offers but fails to perfect, was fork-tender but lacked depth, as did the smoked baby back ribs ($18). Order instead the grilled duck breast ($18), where succulent flesh married pleasantly with sweet and savoury ‘katsu curry’ pumpkin puree and mildly tart Japanese red pickles. Rice was served last – while both options of miso roasted pumpkin with sugar snap peas, crispy garlic and egg yolk ($15), and house smoked bacon with crispy pork skin, spring onion and egg yolk ($16) seemed infallible, their mushy risotto-like consistency dulled the dish.
Neon Pigeon would do well with more creative offerings – their dishes play it safe with uninspired pairings of ingredients that work well individually but don’t quite lift each other up. Even on the service front, more can be done. Well-meaning and friendly as the staff are, they simply couldn’t keep up with a full house, frequently forgetting requests and most of the time too occupied with dishing out the orders to notice a raised hand. There is hope still, but tweaks to their formula need to be made, and quickly, if they are to survive the proliferation of small plates joints. #01-03, 1 Keong Saik Road. Tel: 6222 3623
Average dinner bill for two, with drinks: $150
Must-tries: the unfussy shishito peppers with a charred smokiness and the lusciously juicy duck breast