Carpenter and Cook is a cafe that also sells carefully curated vintage furniture; even the Singer chairs you sit on (the factory ladies sat on the Singer chairs to sew for hours) are for sale. The decor, although a bit clustered and ja-pa-lang and seats aren’t exactly comfortable, has a theme of homely rusticity that unites the paraphernalia together. There are, however, not many seats: just three small tables and two large communal tables.
This old Singer sewing machine is given a new lease of life as Carpenter and Cook transforms it to a table for customers!
Shenn Sim, 1/3 of Carpenter and Cook, is in charge of the “cook.” She was trained in the world-celebrated culinary school, Cordon Bleu (London), and worked at Cocomaya, a famed fine chocolatiery and artisan bakery in London, for two years. Unlike the usual dainty Japanese confections Singaporeans are used to, Shenn’s are rustic and homely. In fact, she bakes from 7am to 3.30pm daily to ensure all the cakes and tarts are freshly made daily.
Three of the RERG team went down and we each have a different favorite. Yandao’s favorite is the carrot cake ($7, pictured above), a two-tier cake: the upper layer is denser while the lower layer is lighter but with nuts and chunks of pineapple and, creating a textural contrast. Not overly sweet, which means one person can finish it on her own.
Tarts are at $6.20 each. When Chiobu commented how awesome and different the tart shell is, Shenn said that Chiobu really knows her stuff. The tart shell is first baked and then taken out to egg-wash (brush the pastry with egg) and then baked again, taking up double the effort to bake, so that the tart shell doesn’t crumble–it breaks cleanly–and so that it’s not nuah, not softened by the filling, giving a clear distinction of tastes of filling and tart shell.
Shenn’s specialty, Passionfruit tart, which is Chiobu’s favorite, is well-balanced, not too sour and not too sweet.
While Chiobu and Yandao dislike the lemon tart, Wise Guy picks it as his favorite: it is delicate in the sense that it is tart almost to the point of face-scrunching. Almost but not yet, that has to take some skills. It’s lemon, of course it should be sour right? That’s the whole point.
While the confections are A+, there is room for improvement for the drinks. The coffee is made from a vintage coffee machine (see the blue machine in the third photo of this entry) but the iced mocha ($6) is bland, not chocolatey enough, not sweet. Although the iced chocolate ($6) uses Valrhona chocolate, it is watery and bitter; the chocolate doesn’t dissolve in the milk. We are unsure if we condone the additional $1 for iced drinks but this seems to be the regular practice for cafes as Orange Thimble and Drips are worse, charging $1.50 more to add ice to drinks.
Another teething problem is the service. It is good intentions to get many servers but the small cafe is overstaffed, which leads to a confusion of who does what. The iced chocolate came when we finished our tarts although the server was friendly, cheerful and apologetic. We went on the second day of the cafe’s soft launch–their trial period–so with time, the staff will be trained and get better.
Before you leave, buy bottles of jams. The jams cost $12.50 a jar and is painstaking handmade, so each batch is unique. Limited edition! Before you complain it’s expensive, Dean & Deluca in Tokyo sells each jar (much smaller jar) at S$15 and theirs aren’t even handmade. We have been buying jams from Bali and Tokyo, and Carpenter and Cook’s jams win hands down.
We bought raspberry and lemongrass (go surprisingly good together, a crowd pleaser, sweet, well-balanced, berry, and fragrant); sea salt caramel (another crowd pleaser, ending with a pleasant burnt sugar aftertaste) and the uniquest of all, creme de cassis & PINOT NOIR jam, blackcurrant jam with pinot noir grapes!! Pinot noir is, of course, the grape used for the eponymous wine. The jam is watery because the chef doesn’t want to “ruin the integrity of the fruit.” But the watery jam works with bread because the bread soaks up the jam, makes the sandwich very yummy! It is extremely tart, ending with a wine-like finish. The jam is a perfect excuse to drink wine in the morning, yeah? The jams are seriously irresistible. We just bought three bottles, and within a night, we already finished half. We have photo evidence.
By no means an extensive menu, the confections, however, are wonderful. We like the well-balanced cakes, brioches, and tarts but what we really admire are the kick-ass-I-don’t-care extreme stuff like the lemon tart and pinot noir jam. If this were American Idol, the well-balanced cakes are the “safe songs”–everyone will love them–and the extreme stuff are “You took a risk, dawg, and you carry it off.” This is the kind of food that has character and heart–everything made from scratch–the kind of food that shows the personality of the cook. It’s the kind of the food that conveys the message that “I know and I like what I’m doing, and I don’t have to explain anything to you.” We say this because the food could have been tweaked to a Singaporean’s taste but they didn’t do that; it is not their style. The food has a more European sensibility: a well-travelled person or someone who has lived in a Western country for some time will appreciate it.
The great writer John Updike once wrote something like, “Don’t judge based on what we want to see; but judge on whether they achieve their aims.” And to this end, the food has achieved near perfection. Kudos to their intrepidity.
We paid $29.60 for three people at the cafe; and bought another $37.50 worth of jam.
Carpenter and Cook
Closed on Monday
Rating: 3.663/5 pinot noir