I passed in front of ROAST @ One Rochester 2 weeks ago and was quite taken in by the lush foliage and the warm twinkling lights set against the twilight sky. I was also quite encouraged by the latest reviews in HungryGoWhere, and very much enticed by the photos on a few food blogs. I noted that the bloggers had been invited to taste and write about the new concept and the new chef @ One Rochester... and worried a teeny weeny bit that the reviews would not be quite as objective as one might like... but gee, what the heck! The photos bypassed my brain and spoke directly to my stomach. See here and here and here. So we dug out the piggy bank, and went there for dinner this night.
I loved the set-up. The lush foliage and twinkling lights were charming. One felt like some sort of civilized Tarzan and Jane, at one with nature but still master (and mistress) of it.
But I am as Singaporean as they come, so I asked to sit inside. It may not have been the best of decisions because suddenly, the ambience wasn't that great anymore. The ceiling was rather low where we sat and through the frosted glass of the window, I could see a few servers' elbows and shoulders as they stood around their serving stations.
When we got there at 5.45pm, they weren't quite ready. Floors were being swept and when the music finally came on, it blared through the speakers and I had to ask for it to be turned down. The lady who met us as we walked in looked harried and whilst she was polite, I somehow felt that I was in an inconvenient place at an inconvenient time. She did show us to some comfortable lounge chairs. And we waited till they were ready.
The food was generally well made. The bread came in an incandescent white napkin, and was soft and warm on the inside, whilst being crusty on the outside. For me, that is an indication of kitchen quality. The humid air in Singapore is not conducive to crusty bread. Bread crust tends to quickly become tough and chewy. Most restaurants tend to toast the bread slices before serving but that's quite different from toasting the loaf and THEN slicing the bread. When you toast the bread slices, the whole slice becomes crusty and you no longer have the pleasure of biting into something soft and fragrant with a crusty edge. ROAST @ One Rochester paid some mind to how the palate would experience the bread.
The Nibbles platter had simple components: some pâté, some mousse, crispy potato balls, parma ham and a small dish of crudités which were perfectly fresh and very crispy. Again, there was attention to the detail of the food. I absolutely loved the olive paste dip (la tapenade) on this platter.
We also had braised lamb shank and braised Angus ribs. Neither disappointed. Both were meltingly soft and full of robust flavours that lounged languorously right around the tongue in such a way that the stomach couldn't wait to say "hi".
The pavlova that came with the "grande assiette" (i.e., big plate) of dessert was disappointing. It was a meringue with cream inside and I missed being able to bite into firm egg white that fluffed. I don't much like meringues you see. The Husband loved the coffee crême caramel - full of coffee and not too sweet.
I think this new chef is wise to appeal to the way Singaporeans like to eat. ROAST serves western food chinese style. You share all the dishes and you get a small bite of everything. I liked that and it was fun to not have to surreptitiously exchange plates when the servers aren't looking, as The Husband and I have been wont to do all these years with each other. No matter how many years we spent abroad and how much we love French food, we're still Singaporeans. ROAST made it alright to eat like we do.
After the initial brusqueness, the service was really nice. The waiters smiled and were warm... However, there was missing in the service a certain je-ne-sais-quoi... a certain gracefulness of movement, where every gesture is soft, smooth and yet efficient. Really good service is so discreet you don't notice it. A soft discreet gesture behind your elbow removes your glass and tops it up. Really good servers stand behind you and note your needs, and then wordlessly fulfill them. The service at ROAST was attentive but too in-your-face to be really classy. I could feel the servers looking at me, and sometimes up to three were observing us eat. A bit disconcerting that. And for the segment (at $75/pax) of the market that ROAST is pitching at, these little things matter. The finer details of service matter - discreet observation and gentle, smooth (not brusque and jerky) gestures. It would have been nicer if servers knew that the elegance of their dance around us made a difference and when trim (not fat) servers look good and move with poise... it... well it... it just seems right. Is all. Otherwise it's like going to Disneyland and seeing a ragged Snow White.
At the end of the day, One Rochester hasn't quite fixed the problem with service.
We enjoyed our evening out, and the food was good... but unlike Barracks to which I returned 5 times in 3 weeks, ROAST has not inveigled my senses to the point where I wish to return despite myself. It's simple western fare of good quality but... but... but... it's nothing really really fabulous except for the warm twinkling lights and lush foliage between white islands of sparkling glasses.
Maybe because we chose to sit inside? And I was too aware of the waiters? Or was my perception unjustly coloured by the initial brusque welcome? But at about $75/pax, I was really looking at a total experience... and not just good quality food.
But well... it isn't very often that stingy Petunia digs out the piggy bank for an evening like this. I like food too much to regularly pay for ambience. I love Al-Ameen. But... gee, no regrets. Now, I will go back to trying to live like the Amish.