Review: Surfeit a beggar's banquet

DAVID BURTON
Last updated 05:00 29/09/2012
Singapura
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
The chef at Singapura is a jack of all trades.

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SINGAPURA

Shop 3, 100 Tory St, opposite Moore Wilson's.
Ph: 803 3700
Open for lunch and dinner, seven days
No licence  as yet
Food: 3/5
Service: 2/5
Ambience: 3/5
Tea list: 4/5
Cost: $46 for two (excluding tea)

An Italian restaurateur once told me his main motivation for moving to New Zealand had been that he'd felt left out of the loop back home.

He believed Italy's tight regulatory atmosphere had prevented him and his wife, as outsiders, from setting up a new restaurant. 

What a contrast with 2012 Wellington, where a dozen or more restaurant proposals are up in the air. That's quite a lot for a small city which already has too many.

Well, you might ask, why not have more restaurants? The more the merrier, surely?

Obviously, from my point of view as a critic, the more restaurants open, the more juicy material beckons.

But it worries me, because ever-proliferating restaurants mean the public's entertainment budgets get increasingly spread thin by trying out newcomers, which may or may not be up to the mark, while worthy professionals (which may have been around for some time) get sidelined or pushed to the wall.  Currently, restaurants are planned for three new apartment developments in downtown Wellington - The Pod (Taranaki St), One Market Lane (the old Wakefield Market) and Clyde Quay Wharf (the former Overseas Passenger Terminal).

This last proposal seems particularly optimistic, given the past histories of Otto's Hafen and Si Restaurant on this windswept site, and the dismal swirl of failure that blows around the block of deserted eateries occupying the ground floor at nearby Chaffer's Dock. (Thank God for City Market.)

Two new restaurant sites are also proposed for Cuba St, and a major new development is nearing completion in the former Cory Electrical store opposite Moore Wilson's in Tory St. A row of six pokey little eateries has been erected, including Singapura, which has just opened.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Singapura's owners being from Singapore, their menu merges with the familiar Courtenay Pl hodgepodge of classic hits from across Southeast Asia: rice paper rolls from Vietnam, tom yum soup from Thailand, laksa from Malaysia and beef brisket noodle soup from China.

The chef, from Hong Kong, may be a jack of all trades but he has yet to master Vietnamese rice rolls: ours were loose and sloppy, apparently devoid of fresh herbs.

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Char kway teow was correctly textured, but needed a bit more in the way of sweet soy sauce, garlic and general oomph.

Curry laksa was about what you might expect for $10.90: nicely spiced broth but a little thin and lacking in body, with the usual halved hard-boiled egg, fried tofu, chicken and half-shell mussel.

Beef brisket soup, again, was OK, but not brilliantly  flavoured, with cubes of lean brisket replacing the caramelised connective stuff you might hope for.

Noting the management and staff were ethnic Chinese, I inquired as to whether they made their own roti cenai, only to be told they buy it in. Pass!

We were left in the spectacularly incapable hands of a rookie waitron. Newly arrived from Taiwan and with limited English, she at first agreed they allowed BYO, before her boss intervened and explained they were still waiting for their licence.

Happily the boss managed to pacify me by replacing my introductory cup of jasmine tea with a pot of po lay.

Later when I went to pay, the poor Taiwanese girl incorrectly claimed I couldn't use my credit card, forcing her boss to angrily intervene once again.

After the dinner, I introduced myself to the boss, who as it turns out, previously owned The Asian Kitchen in Victoria St, before selling it to her chef.

She then took me on a little tour of the Lilliputian shantytown, to see the new fish and chip slot next door and Thai On Tory in the far pen.

As for the two vacant restaurant sites, I'm told one may be Indian - a vital part of the civic plan to push Wellington's grand total of tandoori houses over the 70 mark, I'm sure.

And to think that all the while, vacant restaurant spaces have always existed at the Reading Cinema food court nearby.

ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY

Tom yum

Easily the best thing I tasted at Singapura was the tom yum. It wouldn't pass muster with Thai cuisine purists, in that it is padded out with cheap Western vegetables to suit Singapura's bottom-of-the-market position. But the heart of the dish - the broth itself - was strong and deliciously aromatic, and up to the standard of a Thai restaurant.

- The Dominion Post

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