Yiren Chen •
26 Feb 2011
I seldom write reviews on HGW but my satisfaction from this visit obligated me to at least report partially how I felt. In anycase, an elaborated of my experience is documented below. Here, a more traditional format of the review:
Ambience: You can hardly find anywhere more romantic. Seaside dining on an island, mobile band moving from table to table to since with you (a mini string ensemble of two guitars and a cell that can play even the most trashy of songs, case in point: Nobody).
Food/beverage: There are just some things that you cannot walk into a supermarket and start purchasing. Even if you can, it will be hard to match some of the quality that they provide here. Pick and choose your food wisely and you should be generally safe.
Value: Much of what you pay, I believe, goes into maintaining the high quality of service and superb ambience.
Service: Exactly what you would expect in a 5-star hotel.
What started out as a wet and rainy evening turned out to be one of the best dining experience I've had in years. While the downpour did cause a massive jam along the keppel viaduct, it fortunately could not damp the spirits at Barnacles @ Rasa Sentosa.
Getting to the restaurant on a rainy day is quite tricky. Don't get me wrong, the hotel service was impeccable and they provided umbrellas to any guest (even if you just want to use the pool side toilet) who either act anxious enough or simply boldly, but politely, request for one. However, given the intense and fury of the tropical storm, the staff were caught up trying to ferry guests arriving in hordes of taxi at the lobbby. My friend and I then took the braver route of exploring a sheltered walkway towards the restaurant. After fifteen minutes of wild-goose chase down the corridor of the level 1 rooms, we found an exit from one of the rooms at the end (they are under going refurbishing of the rooms and we managed to sneak into the room and left by the balcony which had direct access to Barnacles located by the pool).
The menu boasts a variety of dish that were strictly divided into Western and Chinese (no fusion musion pile of fakery), triggering a great sense of interest in me as seldom do I see top restaurants confident enough to house two different kitchens under one roof (Chinese has this saying: one mountain cannot house two tigers). We have heard raving reviews of the seafood platter and decided to give our taste buds a treat on this special occasion (yours sincerely celebrating his twenty seventh, no not ashamed of the wisdom that comes with age). Worrying that the serving for this might overwhelm the usually small appetite eaters like us, we quizzed the waiters on the plausibility of us ordering it with other courses. The waiter, Eugene, honestly gave us his recommendations on the portions and we duly added a starter (Asparagus salad), a carb (mushroom risotto) as well as a soup for each of us (French Onion and Rock Fish). To top off the excellent service, a wine recommendation was also made. More on this later (ability to delay my discussion on alcohol is proof that I am not an alcoholic).
The soups were clearly not the forte of the chefs. Perhaps the soup chef (not sous chef) was away for the day but we were definitely expecting more from this place. Having made my own french onion soup, I was looking forward to the blend of caramelized onions and the beef stock, nicely finished with a slightly soaked-crisped bread generously coated with cheese. Disappointedly, I was greeted by a bowl of beef stock with mashes of onions devoid of any flavour. Sure the taste was reminiscent of what I know of a French Onion soup but it certainly did not satisfy the inner longing for the sweetness of the onions from a long period of slow-fire caramelization. It was like visiting France and buying a postcard of Eiffel Tower. I don't want that. I want to take the flight of stairs to the upper levels and enjoy the breeze while I take in the full view of Paris. I want my onion flavour in my French Onion soup. Though the same could not be said of the Rock Fish soup (I only had a spoonful so I am describing as best as I can here), it had plenty of room for improvement. My take toward the Rock Fish soup is going to be very subjective since people prefer their soup, especially involving seafood/shell fish (think lobster bisque) to different extend of "fishiness", creaminess, seasoning and fragrance (here I am thinking of alcohol). I like mine to exhibit an "in your face" reminder of the type of seafood soup/bisque that I am having everytime I bring the soup near. Also, such soup should not be too diluted and should hold as their body well (not overly creamy either but just thick enough in a well balance kind of way). If I could have a touch of nice white wine sprayed on top of the bisque, it would certainly add value. Sadly, the Rock Fish soup came up on a rough 3/5 scale for each of the indicators that I have just mentioned. It's there but not quite there. Just a touch more on each front would have made it a must-try.
Here is where the critical comments stop. The rest of the dishes were delightful. The starter for starters (hmmm...) was a clever and considered use of balsamic dressing. The main ingredients were simple, baby asparagus (yes, those skinny looking ones) among an assorted of hard leaves such as rockets. Coupled with some dried tomatoes and olives, the salad never failed to entertain even up to the seventh, eighth bite. Each mouthful was a fresh and exciting experience. The asparagus on first glance looked overcooked as the brief blanching left it weak in the stem. Yet it retained the crunchiness and freshness amidst the heavy dressing glazing its surface. Having a few chopped pieces of these in between mouthfuls of the remaining salads and an occasional olive indeed burst open my desire for more goodness.
And that goodness eventually came in the form of the risotto. Again, nothing fanciful. Simple, plain risotto in its rich cheesy texture yet the simplest thing is always the hardest to make. Cheesy but not excessively sticky, not overpowering the taste and seasoning and does not rob you of the enjoyment of the individual rice grains that managed to retain much of the broth. I would highly recommend having this together with the cold seafood platter (which in my case was served later but you should request for them to be served together). The risotto would be hugely complemented by the freshness of the seafood kept fresh on a mountain of ice.
Our seafood platter was the hot/cold variant meant for two. The serving was about right and if my memory serves me right, 4 scallops, 4 mussels, one lobster, some Alaskan crabs and squids. I am pretty sure I miss out something but the key point here is that you will not be short-changed. The platter came with a set of sauces; tartar, garlic, soy and red wine vinaigrette. Long story short, the seafood was fresh and succulent. Those that were supposed to be juicy were and those that were supposed to be full of texture were also. The Boston lobster did live up to its name and provided much of the "oohs" and "ahhs" during my first encounter (read virgin) experience with it. The texture was unbelievably matched by the freshness sealed within the thick piece of pearly white meat. It was so good that I teared a little when I had to part with its shell destined for the "debris" bowl. Thanks to my mussels-allergic/resistant company, I had the luxury of experimenting with the best way to enjoy it. I tried taking it fresh, taking it in the garlic dip, having it with a combination of the provided dips. I must say the last experiment proved to be the best of it all. First, remove the mussel from its shell and place it on one half of the shell. Next wet it with two drops of vinegar before placing half a teaspoon of garlic on it. Lastly, take half a teaspoon of soy sauce and drizzle around the mussel in the shell, taking special care not to mix the soy sauce onto the top of the mussel. In one smooth motion, suck in the soy sauce and then the mussel. The initial saltines makes you cringe before the freshness and the coldness of the mussel wakes you up (here eyes open!). When the "fishiness" of the mussel begins to work into your senses, the garlic gets triggered and acts to suppress it all. Overall a balanced yet exciting array of tastes. If you want to spice it further, add one drop of lemon juice on top of the garlic dip. Excellent. If you think this sounds great, you aint seen anything until you tried the rest of the platter. I can see why Barnacles received so many reviews on this. Absolutely stunning.
I did mention that we ordered a bottle of white wine right? I am no wine connoisseur and was unable to pronounce nor remember the name or even brand of the wine recommended to use by the manager. All I could say is that it was well recommended. The body of the wine was not too heavy, light but not fluffy. It was very smooth and yet not too dry at the end. Why did I say that it was well recommended? If you look at some of the dishes that we were having, some were seasoned to be a tad saltier than others but on the average a 6-7/10 on the salty scale. The wine choice was earlier explained by the waiter to be one that will counter this saltiness yet bring out the fragrance of the grapes.
Great, great choice.
Now when you thought all was over, think again. There was the complimentary bread sticks that I forgot to bring up earlier on. Thoroughly enjoyed it as I polished them off the face of this earth. And there was the desserts. A selection of chocolate cake, cookies, ice-cream, coconut moose, strawberries/cranberries and toffee glazed almond cake.
If you only have space for two, the chocolate cake and the cookies cannot, I repeat, cannot be missed. The former simply for the thickness of the dark chocolate sauce that inundated the compact sponge cake. Bitter to the palette but sweet to the heart. The cookies on the other hand was in the class of its own. Made from a selection of nuts (i cannot figure out what but I strongly believe there's almond and maybe just maybe walnut), it behold a fragrance that brings you into a Victorian world where you dress up in your corset and sit by the meticulously carved white pavilion on a lazy afternoon, sipping your pipping hot tea while looking into a vast green pasture where your pet pony is running after a couple of butterflies. You think I'm hard selling the cookie? I dare you to try it.
All in all? A lovely experience and a wonderful birthday treat. =)