The steamed Live Whole Lobster | Photo: Celine Asril
3 out of 5 stars
What to eat: Chilli Lobster
If, like me, you grew up in the 1990s, the Singapore Dream is a permutation of the American Dream: anyone who can fit into the mould to achieve upward mobility will have prosperity and success. A little fame in the process won't hurt either.
There is no doubt Frederick Yap and Velda Tan, both 27, have worked hard to get a good claw on that at Pince & Pints. The (half-)celebrity couple chose to do it with the ultimate New England offering – the lobster roll – at this thin-wood-tiled, red-pleathered, dinner-only 46-seater at Duxton.
Pince & Pint's lobster roll, comes with salad, dry shoestring fries and herbed butter sauce | Photo: Celine Asril
The successful couple are founders of popular homegrown blogshop, Love Bonito. Tan was one of the faces for the blogshop.
Yap and Tan have turned into restaurateurs, kicking off high on the blogshop's success and jumping onto the lobster-roll food trend that is sweeping Singapore: fan-girl and -boy diner lines snaked around the shophouse establishment of this American comfort-food joint. Tireless diners have waited for at least three hours to have a meal here.
The hype has died down a little in the weekdays. HungryGoWhere waited for a prompt half-hour for our phones to ring to secure a table for two on a Wednesday night.
Word has probably got out that the food is good, not great. And with a clientele as young as the early-to-mid 20s, who is able to afford meals at $48++ on a regular basis? Yes, the lobster roll is $48.
My gripe with many blogshops in Singapore is that the products usually look good from far and Pince & Pints is no exception. The packaging is eye-catching, but the quality and workmanship fall in expected standards: service is pleasant and professional, the four dishes (not three, as the waitress firmly but politely informed us – the grilled Live Whole Lobster is counted as one dish) make for good photos and the lighting here is ideal for Instagram shots, but the details disappoint.
"My gripe with many blogshops in Singapore is that the products usually look good from far and Pince & Pints is no exception. The packaging is eye-catching, but the quality and workmanship fall in expected standards"
After the long distance that the Boston and Canadian lobsters have travelled and their storage in water tanks, the crustaceans have their "essence of the sea". Salt can be (and is) added to the water tanks that Yap built, but what about the minerals? In the United States where the lobsters get from farm to table much quicker, you might get away with lightly dressing the flavourful lobster meat for a roll. But Pince & Pints' lobster meat is too plain to be dressed so lightly. Though they try to make up for that with a heavy sweet bread (heavy on the mayonnaise, too) that was generously dipped in butter before being pan-fried, the end result is one that weighs like a crumpled fisherman's net in the stomach.
It did not help that the shoestring fries were on the dry side.
The lack of flavour was more evident in the steamed Live Whole Lobster: the meat, while fresh and supple, could not stand on its own. The mild herbed butter sauce helped a little, though we think flakes of sea salt would have fared better.
For the Chilli Lobster, the dish is drowned in presentation and in flavour by the tomato-and-chilli sauce's sweetness, even though we thought this starchy localised version was the best attempt among the three dishes we tried.
Chilli Lobster with fried mantou | Photo: Celine Asril
The cocktails are a hit and a miss. Split the Mainbrace ($18) is a balanced, refreshing tall glass of cucumber gin, Maraschino liqueur, fresh lemon and pineapple, orgeat and mint soda. The Bee’s Knees (gin, fresh lemon and organic Manuka syrup, $14) is a strongly floral mix – from the Manuka honey – with an irrepressible bitter aftertaste. The variety is there though. The drinks menu has at least 10 times more items than that of the food, inclusive of bottles of wine and sodas.
For Yap, Tan and their diners, this restaurant is a dream realised. Lobster rolls were once just available in the US. Having crossed over the Pacific Ocean, they are each now priced a hefty $56.16 (tax and service charge inclusive) to anyone who can afford it.
Whether or not Singaporeans want to pay for this regularly, there will be some who still want to live the Dream. At Pince & Pints, this dream requires getting to the restaurant at 5pm to stake a claim (no reservations allowed), and then nursing a drink at one of the nearby restaurants. The Singaporean Dream is not cheap, take it from this '90s girl.
Pince & Pints | Address: 33 Duxton Road | Tel: 62257558 | Opening hours: Mon-Sat 5pm-11pm
Celine Asril is guilty of taking pictures before tucking in to all her meals; it’s a (good) hazard of the job – this editor of HungryGoWhere never sits down to two of the same meals in a week. She believes restaurant reviewing should always be conducted anonymously by critics, which is the ethos she has spread across HungryGoWhere.