Aloha! Beside Man Man Unagi Japanese Restaurant, Don Ho is situated at the back alley of Keong Saik road. But surprisingly it has none of the dark, emo, hipster vibe associated with back alley restaurants. The Hawaiian-styled decor is reflective of its inspiration, Don Ho, who was a Chinese-Hawaiian singer.
It seems incongruous that the Hawaiian-themed Don Ho serves modern Australian cuisine by Chef Shiman Woon whose experience includes restaurants in Sydney Australia such as Majestic Harvest, Three Williams and Cibo e Vino. The menu is slim with mostly small sharing plates.
From the “Land” section, smoked ox tongue sliders ($20), which use buns made in-house, are satisfactory but the chipotle mayo overpowers the flavor of the tongue. Furthermore, they are difficult to eat by hand. I like to hold sliders and bite into them, but because the ox tongue is tough, I could not chew through the meat, I had to pull the whole meat out, leaving the bun and slaw behind.
It’s an easy enough problem to solve–slice the ox tongue thinner, or make it more tender, or cut it into small pieces–but this design flaw, that the food is good but impractical to eat, seems to be repeated in the dishes we had.
Also from the “Land” section, the roasted Iberico pork jowl ($16) is tough like the ox tongue, and I think it would be better if it is grilled so that it would have a slight char on the surface. But Mr Fitness likes the bite, and the combination with egg and miso works well.
From the “Earth” section, Don Ho recommends the Zaatar flat bread ($12) from their wood-fired oven, but simple carbs are not popular anymore. We opted for wood roasted pumpkin and sweet potato ($12) which luxuriate in a piquant garlic yoghurt. It is nothing fancy, but boy, is it delicious. The sour, creamy, rich yoghurt offsets the sweetness and mushy texture of the complex carbs. Think I’ll try to replicate the yoghurt recipe at home.
From the “Sea” section, the ash-cured ocean trout pastrami ($14) is too salty and fishy for us.
The other fish dish red snapper ($18), however, is remarkable. It’s pan-fried on both sides, crispy on the surface, moist and tender inside. The cauliflower puree does not compete with but instead buoys the gentle sweetness of the fish. The puffed wild rice, however, is extra; it is too hard and ruins the texture of the dish as whole. Remove it, and the dish is beautiful.
It is hard to find Persian cotton candy known as pashmak in Singapore, and the baklava ($10) comes with pashmak and pistachio ice cream. Usually baklava is excessively sweet because it is bound by sugar syrup, but Don Ho leaves out the sugar syrup. As a result, the baklava at Don Ho is less sweet than elsewhere but it falls apart when you’re eating it. I felt like I was eating nuts and phyllo pastry, instead of baklava.
The cocktails are fantastic and cost from $18-$22. The recommended cocktails include yuzu mule ($20), and gin garden ($18), although I thought the El Caliente ($18) with chilli sounds interesting. The yuzu mule (homemade yuzu honey, Reyka vodka, fresh orange and lime, and ginger beer) and birds & bees ($18, Solerno blood orange liqueur, organic almond milk, homemade honey-lemon syrup, and egg white)–the former sour, the latter sweet–are both smooth and easy to drink.
Even for small plates, I thought the serving is tiny, and besides Singapore has seen its fair share of small plate restaurants, so I’m not sure what will attract me back to Don Ho. But to be fair, the food is nice on its own right, the service excellent, and the decor fun.
Don Ho Social Kitchen & Bar
1 Keong Saik Rd, Singapore 089109
Tel: +65 6223 5001
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Written by A. Nathanael Ho.