The Dempsey Cookhouse marks the third time we ate at 3 Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants. He is French but has settled and made his mark in New York. For the first two times, when we ate at his restaurants in New York, we weren’t impressed. But given that we heard good things about this new place, we went with an open mind.
Vongerichten’s signature cuisine abandons the traditional use of meat stocks and creams and instead features the intense flavours and textures from vegetable juices, fruit essences, light broths, and herbal vinaigrettes.
The 2-page menu is simple, elegant, and gives good variety. Many dishes are for sharing, and the prices are (relatively) pocket-friendly. It’s what I would call borderless cuisine, not French food. We ordered a mix of signatures and whatever-we-felt-like-eating, and the strange thing is the signatures were disappointing while we were delighted with the non-signatures.
The burrata ($16), for example, not recommended as a signature, is lovely. It has the perfectest texture, pillowy and creamy, and isn’t watery or disintegrate with a merest prick. It’s covered with Meyer lemon jam, which comes as a refreshing shock like the first dip into a cool pool on a hot day.
The roasted foie gras ($19) looks burnt, but is in fact gorgeously buttery inside. It’s paired creatively with powdered olive and lychee, giving it an Asian twist. Chiobu and Yandao, both connoisseurs of foie gras, praised it highly.
Now here comes the signature: egg caviar ($35), which is the most expensive and tiniest item on their menu. It befuddles me that this could go for $35, given that it is just an egg topped with caviar. And taste-wise, it is just that. Nothing special. Pricing it at, say, $12 might have made me more mentally balanced.
The other signature, black truffle and fontina cheese pizza ($20), sounds amazing on paper. The muskiness of the truffle should offset the pungency of the cheese. But the execution is less than perfect.
It was way too burnt for us. I understand burnt pizza. The burnt marks are called “leopard spots,” characteristic of authentic Neapolitan pizzas. My favorite pizzeria in Singapore, Alt Pizza, serves it. But at Dempsey Cookhouse, the pizza was so burnt that the overwhelming taste was bitterness.
Here, comparing the pizza we had, and the photo I took from the Dempsey Cookhouse’s site:
There is a big difference between our pizza and what it is supposed to be, isn’t there? Ours was obviously, overly charred. The server and the manager saw our faces, and asked us about it, and then consoled us that it was supposed to be like that.
The BBQ glazed beef tenderloin ($29) is completely tender, but the bbq glaze has hardened on the surface, giving an incongruity to the bite. The calamari is already there to provide a differing texture, so there is no need for the surface to be tough. They need to look into the issue.
Like the savories, you’re better off ordering what you like instead of their signatures. Their signature warm chocolate cake ($15) has so much salt that the dominant flavor is saltiness. And then comes a bitterness from the burnt cake. Like the pizza, the cake is burnt.
The raspberry frangipane tart ($14), however, is a dream. It comes with raspberry swirl ice cream. The raspberries aren’t sour and the fragrance of almond cuts through the tart. The wonderful tart shell is thin and soft but firm. Quite perfect.
Throughout the night, our two servers (a male Filipino and a gentle guy) were fantastic. They chatted with us, answered our queries, checked with the kitchen, filled our drinks, etc. They deserved an unreserved 10/10 for their service.
At the end of the meal, Chiobu wanted to take a photo with the chef. Throughout the night, Vongerichten had been circulating the restaurant but perhaps because we were seated at the door, he had neglected us. (This table placement is problematic and I’ll come back to it.)
So we asked the receptionist to ask the chef over to our table. (We were seated at the door! The receptionist was nearest to us.) She seemed to be afraid to talk to the chef, so she asked another server to ask the chef over.
This male server–probably Singaporean–came to our table and said, “The best thing for you to do is to go to the chef yourself and ask to take a photo with him.” And he left.
Ok. Here’s what he did wrongly:
1. Address us. He should have said “Hello” or “Excuse me” first. He cannot violate the privacy of our conversation and interrupt us. He cannot start in medias res, this is not a novel. We are not his friends.
2. NEVER school the customers. A server can make suggestions, but not instruct us on “the best thing to do.” He should have said, “Excuse me, the chef is busy talking to other patrons now. And we the servers are in awe of him, we are afraid to interrupt him. So if you’re in a rush for time to go somewhere else, maybe I can bring you to him and introduce him to you. Or if you can wait, I’ll find an opportunity to bring him to you.”
3. No restaurant in the world would ask a patron to walk to a chef; this is the first time I’ve heard it. F&B is a service industry, and the chef has been talking to guests throughout the night. Why not come to us? Besides, if the chef happens to be talking to another guest, are we expected to stand at the side like idiots? A waiter can stand at the side and wait for the chef to finish talking with customers, but we as guests cannot. This is not a social event, it is a F&B establishment.
4. It’s not what he said, it’s how he said it. “Tone” is very important, which is why people misunderstand each other through emails and texts. If you say it verbally, it is a joke, but when you put it on paper, it may sound rude. Here, his tone was condescending and hurried, as if he was the bouncer to Lady Gaga’s concert and we were her fans.
At first, I thought I might have misread his tone. But when he left, Chiobu said, “Do you find his tone rude?” Yandao chimed in to agree. All three of us found that the way he talked down to us was inappropriate.
I am Singaporean so I can say this: Singaporean waiters are the worst. If he has a sense of entitlement and doesn’t like service, why be a waiter? The whole night might have gone perfectly, but for this small incident, it had ruined our mood.
Anyway, back to the placement of the tables. COMO Dempsey is a long house, which has 4 restaurants. For the 3 other restaurants, the tables are set at the back of the house, away from the entrance. But at Dempsey Cookhouse, the tables are set right at the entrance. So the first face customers see when they walk in is me. And we didn’t get to enjoy the gorgeous interior! What’s the point of coming here?!
They need to rearrange the tables. Remove the first two tables nearest the entrance.
Also I found it strange that they sat us at the entrance. We were there from 6pm to 8pm and when we left, I took a look at the restaurant and counted 6 empty tables at the inside of the restaurant. They could have sat us there! or maybe Invisible Man and Invisible Girl took up the space.
I don’t want to give the impression that the restaurant is bad; it is a place I’d return. Yes, there are definitely teething problems with the restaurant, mostly to do with the service and the (mis)control of their oven (many things that come out from the oven are charred and the chefs will have to familiarize themselves with the oven).
Despite the teething problems, the food is good enough for me to recommend the restaurant. I’ll definitely bring Mr Fitness here when they have worked out their kinks. We paid $173 for three persons.
The Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar
Block 17D Dempsey Road, Singapore 249676
Tel: +65 6304 5588
Lunch 12pm-2.30pm, Dinner 6pm-10pm (Sun-Th), 6pm-11pm (F,Sat, Eve, and PH)
Ambience/Decor: 5/10 (given where we were seated. This might have scored an 8.)
Service: 7/10 (mixed bag, 10/10 mostly except for the one unpleasant incident)
You might be interested in…
–La Ventana, Dempsey: Michelin-Starred Spanish Family Restaurant by Carles Gaig, Established in 1869, Now in Singapore
–Portico Prime, Dempsey: “Inspired by Harry Potter”
–The Disgruntled Chef, Dempsey: Fantastic Small Plates Brunch that Makes You Grunt With Satisfaction
–Open Farm Community, Minden Road / Dempsey: Bringing Farm Food to the Heart of the City
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.