Must try: Prawn pasta with zucchini and garlic
You know how some restaurants–such as Valentino, Andre Restaurant or Osvaldo – attract a strong following as much for their divine cuisine as for their heavy-weight chefs?
For better or for worse, Spruce belongs to this category. When Spruce opened in 2009, former co-owner and chef, Travis Masiero, was the culinary poster boy fronting press write-ups. That did not come as a surprise given Chef Masiero’s impressive five-year stint at Wine Garage.
But since late 2010, Chef Masiero has been seen taking on chef-consulting roles with new establishments such as Tanjong Beach Club at Sentosa. When asked about Chef Masiero’s current role at Spruce, the staff seemed clueless though they were quick to add that Masiero no longer ran the kitchen.
Masiero or not, it was business as usual during our visit to Spruce on a balmy Friday night. Set in an atmospheric single-storey building, the greenery-shrouded Spruce is tucked away in a hilly cul-de-sac at the lush Pheonix Park enclave. And while the venue is as exclusive as it could be, Spruce has kept its ambience decidedly casual–much like a bistro–with timber floor, white washed walls, origami-styled lamps and an airy sheltered alfresco space with whirling ceiling fans.
But it wasn’t until we had our first bites that Masiero’s absence was felt.
The spinach and bacon salad ($19), highly recommended by the wait staff in place of the signature Spruce salad that we had wanted initially, was well-oiled and came with egg bits, apple slices, chopped walnuts, dried fruits and chicken ham. But save for the crunchy texture from the mish-mash of ingredients, the salad tasted flat from a weak dressing. Perhaps the addition of balsamic vinegar or anchovies would have lifted the umami factor up a few notches? Similarly, steak frites ($34) were served nonchalantly with the slab of meat burnt on the outside, alongside tasteless sprigs of mixed greens and a lacklustre creamy-yellow béarnaise sauce that looked more exciting than it tasted. Admittedly, the steak was a lovely red when sliced, but the meat flavour fell flat when paired with an insipid sauce. The only saving grace on the plate was the crisp wedges of spice-dusted frites. Skip the duck confit ($32) too if you can resist it. While it was served pretty sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes, the poultry skin lacked the crisp and salty-tang normally associated with this popular bistro dish.
Mozzarella cheese with momotaro tomatoes
But it’s not all bad. The prawn pasta with zucchini and garlic ($22), a Masiero-signature, hit the sweet spot with an unusual zucchini-blended sauce studded with prawns and zucchini slices. We also love the parcel of pristine-white burratina cheese with parma ham, sliced momotaro tomatoes, basil leaves and Liguria olive oil ($21)—though we think a dash of sea salt crystals would have perked-up the dish a whole lot more.
Spruce’s dessert menu may not raise many eye brows. But what they do, they do it well. To end on a sweet note, have a slice of brownie ($5) or cocoa orange sour cream pound cake ($3) and wash it down with espresso.
320 Tanglin Road
Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 10.30am-10.30pm; Sat & Sun: 8.30am-10.30pm.