“And these pranksters painted the numbers ‘1’, ‘2’ and ‘4’ on three piglets and threw them over the wall into our Jewish campus, sparking a massive manhunt or hog-hunt for the supposedly missing number three pig! Evil!”
And with that, our table roared with laughter and momentarily, just momentarily, forgot all about the exquisite offerings we were there to taste. Such was the engaging and riveting nature of our discourse that it was only broken whenever Head Chef Randy Torres came introducing a new dish from The Marmalade Pantry’s revamped menu. At which time we would revert to our “ooohs” and “aaahs” at the beautiful presentations, take our Instagram-worthy shots of the food and savour them, before returning to our chatter.
I confess upfront I am an unabashed fan of The Marmalade Pantry. From the time it opened its first outlet at Palais Renaissance in 1999, we would be so excited each time we went there even though as poor university students (gosh, I’ve betrayed my age!) we could only afford tea and cupcakes. The classy bistro just felt so glamorous and comfortable all at once, giving us the illusion that we had arrived.
I thus jumped at the opportunity to experience The Marmalade Pantry’s “Triple Seven Offerings” – its celebration of seven new dishes and seven new cupcakes within a seven-week long promotion across all three outlets conveniently located at ION Orchard, Oasia Novena and Oasia Downtown.
The meal started with the Heirloom Tomatoes and Burrata Cheese, which is a somewhat more luxurious version of the traditional Caprese Salad, with its use of seasonal heirloom tomatoes from Spain and Burrata Cheese. I consider myself a novice when it comes to cheese but the Burrata Cheese – described as “the more buttery, indulgent cousin to the mozzarella” – was absolutely delicious. The sprinkling of freshly ground olive powder proved to be an inspired touch and added a savoury kick to the dish.
The Citrus Fruits and Tuna Salad was a brilliant mix of colours, textures and flavours. The pan-seared Ahi tuna came marinated in a secret house blend of Asian spices and was accompanied by seasonal citrus fruits (grapefruit and pomelo in our case), crumbled feta cheese, candied walnuts and crunchy radish all laid out on a bed of baby spinach. The myriad of flavours was quite mind-boggling for what looks like a deceptively simple dish.
With chicken breast, you often get meat that is too dry and unpalatable. The Roasted Stuffed Chicken is a showcase of how to avoid that. A piece of drumlet is cleverly added and this, together with the baby spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and Portobello mushroom stuffing all conspire to keep the meat moist and juicy. The Pan-Seared Barramundi comes on a bed of couscous cooked in house-made basil pesto. Alas, I am not at liberty to reveal the precise technique responsible for the couscous tasting so good.
The Lala Clams Vongole – an interesting mash-up between the ‘zi-char’ style of stir-fried Asian soft-shell clams and a classic spaghetti alle vongole – and the Truffle Beef Burger – featuring a whole slice of black truffle – are two of the other new additions to the mains. But I must move on to the Char Siew Kurobuta Pork Belly, which to me was the pièce de résistance.
The pork belly is marinated for two whole days before being cooked sous-vide for 12 hours, resulting in meat that melts in your mouth. The creamy roasted pumpkin mash and apple-chilli chutney balance out the dish perfectly. The light and crispy sweet potato chips were so addictive I could have eaten a whole plate of them on my own.
No meal at The Marmalade Pantry is complete without its desserts or one of its signature cupcakes. Existing crowd favourites such as the Red Velvet have been revamped, with a bold change of removing the coconut flake toppings and replacing it with a hazelnut spread filling and cream cheese topping. I was slightly distraught when Chef Randy disclosed that the Elvis, my all-time favourite all these years with its peanut butter frosting, will be discontinued.
Thankfully, though, I have found my new favourite cupcake – the Mudslide. It is a chocolate cupcake with a hazelnut feuilleté base topped with vanilla and chocolate buttercream and, get this, filled with orange marmalade filling! If that isn’t your idea of gastronomic heaven, I don’t know what is. It certainly is mine.
With our palates intrigued and tummies satisfied, we returned to our invigorating conversations. From runaway pigs to runaway brides, the stories just flowed like good champagne. Lest you think that our group of food tasters were old friends who have known each other for the last 20 years to be so comfortable in each other’s presence, we were actually a bunch of complete strangers meeting for the very first time. But good food does that to you. Coupled with a nice ambience, it just makes you feel warm, safe and comfortable.
Sometimes, a great dining experience doesn’t have to be about the food taking centre stage with no meaningful conversation taking place. Sometimes all you need is for the food to be good enough that it satisfies and relaxes you, and allows you to engage with your dining companions. Just like great wine is supposed to enhance and not detract from the flavours of the food you’re tasting, good food is meant to enhance the quality of the time you’re spending with friends and family.
And that’s what an almost 20-year old homegrown institution like The Marmalade Pantry does for you – wholesome, hearty and comforting food that just makes you feel like you’re home.
Between 1 November and 17 December 2017, diners who try all seven new dishes will automatically receive a S$50 The Marmalade Pantry voucher, to be used on their next visit.
The Marmalade Pantry – ION Orchard
#03-22, ION Orchard
2 Orchard Turn Singapore 238801
T: +65 6734 2700
The Marmalade Pantry – Novena
#01-02/04, Oasia Hotel Novena
8 Sinaran Drive, Singapore 307470
T: +65 6664 0348
The Marmalade Pantry – Downtown
#01-01, Oasia Hotel Downtown
100 Peck Seah Street, Singapore 079333
T: +65 6385 0741