The baked cheesecake with a base of crushed Tim Tams | Photo: The Big Sheila
Overall rating: 4 out of 5
Must Eats: Chicken cacciatore, backyard sausage rolls
Few things tease out the primal urge quite like great home-cooked food. While no-one would deny the thrill of dining at a restaurant at the top of its creative game, sometimes gastronomic bells and whistles seem an inadequate substitute for, say, a hearty stew, a simple salad or a thick slab of generously iced cake.
|"(The Big Sheila) doesn’t give a fig for molecular innovation or racy taste combinations"|
That’s where The Big Sheila comes in. This newish East Coast venture – set up last year by Australian former IT consultant Fleur Glover – doesn’t give a fig for molecular innovation or racy taste combinations. Instead, its stated mission is simply to serve up simple western-style dishes with minimum fuss and maximum flavour and it nails its self-imposed brief emphatically.
Salivary glands are stimulated from the get-go by a window display starring golden-crusted pies, plump roasted chickens and multi-hued salads. There’s a temptation to stand there with your nose pressed against the glass like a dumbstruck kid at the Christmas shops. Better, however, to gather round Big Sheila’s big communal table and indulge your mouth as well as your eyes.
The menu is as easily navigable as the simple interior set-up (one large communal table and a handful of smaller nooks). Lighter bites such as dips, pates and salads kick things off. A whole host of amazing looking homemade pies – varieties include slow-roasted beef, chilli, dhal coconut and pumpkin – and other comfort food favourites such as Scotch eggs and meatballs ramp things up a little. Meanwhile, a choice selection of mains including beef bourguignon and cassolette cater to the dinner crowd.
With some guidance we opt to share the love around the menu. From the salad selection, the ‘beep beep bah bah’ ($14), a concoction of roasted baby beetroot, goats cheese, baby spinach, cucumber and hazelnuts is an auspicious starter – the tart creaminess of the cheese working wonders alongside the earthy beets, crunchy nuts and sweet spinach.
You’d expect Australians to know their way around a savoury pastry product, given the nation’s nominal national dish is the meat pie, and the Backyard Sausage Roll ($10) doesn’t disappoint. Golden filo encases a magnificently peppery, porky round of sausage meat tastes equally stellar unadorned or flecked with its accompanying spicy tomato chutney.
From the mains, chicken cacciatore ($20) is everything you’d want from a slow-cooked dish. Carrot, leek, onion and fennel combine to create a sweetness that is saved from over-unctuousness by the punchy tart notes provided by olives, lemon and white wine. Bay leaves and thyme supply an underlying mellowness while the tender meat collapses under the pressure of the fork like a punch-drunk fighter.
With Fleur’s dense crusty bread mopping up the last nano-droplet of sauce, it’s hard enough to muster the energy to down the vestiges of the delicious Scarpantoni the restaurant serves by the glass. However, leaving here without dessert is like climbing a mountain without taking in the view.
On this occasion we opt for a baked cheesecake ($13) with a base made from crushed Tim Tams (Aussie chocolate biscuits). The giant slab of chocolate-topped decadence tastes as good as it looks, although a soupcon of crème fraiche to provide additional cooling moistness might have been desirable.
Miniscule quibbles aside, The Big Sheila offers supersized contentment and is well worth heading east for.
The Big Sheila | Address: 15 Swan Lake Avenue, Siglap | Tel: 66454422 | Opening hours: Tue 11:30am-3pm; Wed-Fri 11.30am-3pm, 6.30-10pm; Sat 9am-4pm, 6.30-10pm; Sun 10am-4pm