Potato Head Folk's Naughty Fries, Baby Huey (left) and Rambo (right) | Photo: Priyanka Chand Agarwal
3.5 out of 5 stars
What to eat: Baby Huey, Naughty Fries, Pot Heads
What to drink: Jerk cocktails
All of Potato Head Folk is finally open for business. The takeaway counter, street-level burger bar and the dine-in floor of Three Buns restaurant on the first level opened on 6 June, followed by the reservations-only watering hole Studio 1939 on level two, and The Rooftop bar on... the rooftop.
The four-storey drink-and-dine venue is the first international venture for the group behind famed Potato Head Beach Club in Bali, and the original Potato Head in Jakarta. Its reputation for being a hip and trendy spot precedes it, and by setting up shop on buzzy Keong Saik Street in Singapore -- in one of Chinatown's more iconic art deco buildings, supposedly bought for a few million dollars -- it seems only natural that Potato Head Folk has opened to long queues, overbooked tables and high expectations.
The Rambo | Photo: Priyanka Chand Agarwal
We wish it had succeeded in the "relaxed restaurant" and "neighbourhood bar" vibe it tries to give along with its casual menu and friendly service. However, the pre-opening hype and social media frenzy it generated has made it more of a place to see and be seen than to kick back and relax.
Three visits, a couple of burgers, and a few drinks later, here are what we think works (and what don't) at Potato Head's four floors:
The dessert pots are called Pot Heads ($6 each) | Photo: Priyanka Chand Agawarl
Be in the mood for burgers
Burgers are the only options for mains here, luckily there is a range to suit all.
Expect to pay $18 to $28 for all-natural patties in homemade buns that are adequately doused with house-made full-bodied, spiced sauces. Expensive? Yes, for a wax-paper-wrapped burger with no sides. Good? Quite.
The burger recipes are laid out by chef Adam Penney (of famed London burger bar Patty & Buns. If you are eating on street level (where the kitchen is), you may spot him grilling burgers while grooving to hip-hop music. Tuck into the Baby Huey ($20), which is 150g of beef patty (left a tad underdone to soak up the sauces) and topped with cheese, lettuce, tart pickled onions and slathered with homemade sauces, including the Notorious T.O.M sauce (a made in-house sweet, spiced and smokey tomato sauce). The mayonnaise used is flavoured with mustard seeds that lend a delightful bitter finish. While Baby Huey comes enveloped in a soft, white bun that yields on first bite, the Rambo ($25) is 150g of lamb patty that sits strong in a wholemeal bun. Accented with feta cheese, a hint of green chilli, aubergine pickles and a full-flavoured cumin aioli. There is also a double-prime patty (100g each), double-cheese and triple onion hulk called the Four Floors ($28), as well as a vegetarian burger ($18) with seasonal vegetables, cheese fritters and coleslaw.
Sides are not included, but do spring for the Naughty Fries ($9); like chilli fries but not as sauce-drenched, these are unevenly hand-cut, skin-on potatoes doused (not too liberally) with a tart bearnaise sauce, beef chilli, parmesan, sesame, fried brown onions and cilantro. It is the sauce again that makes this an extremely moreish bowl.
Desserts should not be missed. Recipes taken over from Pots & Co (a range of desserts in ceramic pots from the UK that chef Penney helped conceptualise), they were easily the best part of our meal. The simple dessert pots ($6 each, available in rich chocolate or zesty lemon) were creamy, like a cross between a dense mousse and a custard-like panna cotta, quite the contrast to the hefty burgers.
The Zombie (in the bottle) and the Mexican Mule | Photo: Priyanka Chand Agarwal
Stick to the simpler drinks
Burgers aside, another draw is the range of liquid concoctions. Three Buns and The Rooftop serve cocktails with a decidedly tropical twist, mixed with house-made fruit syrups, reductions and preservative-free Jerk Sodas (on their own, $7 each)
We were warned that the Zombie ($18), a bottle cocktail with a blend of four rums, and spirits like absinthe and falernum, is a potent mix, but ours was weak and overly sweet. A friendly server informed us that there is 30ml of alcohol in all of the cocktails, drowned, it seems, by the heady concoction of trying-too-hard homemade syrups and an overkill blend of juices.
The Jerk Cocktails fare much better with their simplicity: the Mexican Mule, Cimarron Blanco Tequila with lime and ginger beer, pairs well with the hearty burgers and holds its own to deliver the requisite booze buzz ($15).
Unlike Bali where there is ample space to spread out and lounge, if the cosy third-level bar Studio 1939, is what you're here for, a reservation is a must.
Paying homage to the "founded" date etched onto the building's facade, the intimate space is decked out with retro, framed posters offset by dark walls and wood flooring. The parlour-like bar serves cocktails crafted by mixologist Dre Masso (consultant for the Potato Head group who made his fame in London's cocktail scene) and his team.
Whether you sit at the marble-top curved bar or sink into one of the upholstered cane armchairs, the dim lighting sets the mood for appreciating classic cocktails like a Negroni ($23). 1939's version uses two kinds of Vermouth - Antica Formula and Dollin Rosso with the addition of Aperol, resulting in a crowded drink while we prefer our classics simple and gutsy. To sample Masso's signature infusions, we ordered the Calcutta Sunrise ($24), consisting of hibiscus-infused Absolut vodka, crushed and strained raspberries, with lemon and madagascar vanilla. While the raspberries all but drowned out the delicate hibiscus, we caught hints of vanilla in this refreshing, but hardly potent cocktail – a pervasive character in the bar menus.
Go to the roof for the view
One floor up, the rooftop is a delight, with its bare decor of planters, fairy lights and 180-degree view of the neighbouring buildings in Chinatown. The menu features more tropical cocktails with the addition of craft beers, house pour and premium spirits. The Zombie makes an appearance again, this time at $25 with seven kinds of rum (four more than Three Buns' version), fewer fruit juices and a limit of only two per person.
The complex's walls, corners, stairwells and nooks provide many surprises and are photo worthy | Photo: Priyanka Chand Agarwal
Art deco structure with hipster-approved, quirky interiors
This review would be incomplete without a nod to the interiors designed by Australian artist, David Bromley. While the building's triangular facade is impressive from the outside, the folk behind Potato Head Folk have taken pains to impress from the inside out. Whimsical wall murals, quirky sculptures, ceiling-hung streamers and deliberately mismatched furniture lend the complex's walls, corners, stairwells and nooks many surprises. The statue of a lion-masked boy here, and a framed set of vintage cutlery there, you will spot something new (and Instagrammable) everytime you visit.
Priyanka has has worked in PR and marketing for start-ups, upstarts and East India's largest media group, before trading in the corporate ladder for writing about food and other delicious things in Singapore. Her writings have also appeared in the online pages of Appetite Asia, LivingESP and InSing.com. When not at work, she can be found furiously stirring a pot of curry in her kitchen or Instagram-ing at the hottest new restaurant.