Modern European bistros are fast becoming dime-a-dozen, and truth be told, Park Hotel Clarke Quay (it's that forgotten corner between UE Square and Robertson Walk) hasn't really been on our radar when it came to dining around that area. Plus, when a set lunch is that crazy affordable, our innate Singaporean cynicism inevitably kicks into high gear.
But we let down our guards a little when we were greeted by a resort-like charm that evoked memories of lounging around the Mediterranean. And with the arched alcove booths, the experience was beginning to feel more like an intimate meal at someone's house, than in a hotel in the heart of town. By the time the second dish rolled around, we were eager to shed our cloaks of cynicism to root for cosy little Porta.
Porta's (and Park Hotel Clarke Quay's) new executive chef Michael Suyanto hails from a fine-dining background, specifically, that of the revered Les Amis restaurant group. His last gig was at Bistro du Vin ─ arguably one of the best examples of casual fine-dining done right ─ and it looks like he's done a great job of replicating that success here with the same gregarious vibe and stellar food, at even more wallet-friendly prices.
The menu can largely be summed up as hearty, European comfort food. It's concise with just six appetisers and six mains, but Chef Michael's fastidious French training ensures that the culinary team nails it every time.
Ravioles de Royans
While a la carte prices are set at a happy, mid-range tier (most mains are between $22 and $26), the set lunch is so cheap that it's almost criminal not to take advantage of it. A 2-course set (your choice of appetiser-main, or main-dessert pairing) is a mere $18, and the 3-course version is still only $22. There's nothing patronising about the options on the set menu either, with choices like house-smoked salmon, angel hair pasta, mini cheese ravioli and roasted haddock fillet.
As much as Chilled Angel Hair pasta is cliche, we couldn't help but gravitate towards it, especially since it was exclusive to the set lunch menu. While the dressing was standard ─ Japanese kombu seaweed, avruga caviar and truffle oil ─ the execution was en-pointe and the generous portion had us questioning the staff twice if it were indeed an appetiser rather than a main!
But it was the Ravioles de Royans that cemented Porta's place in our hearts: A warm pile of mini squares of emmental-and-comte raviolis. It wasn't anything fancy, yet every bite was comfort for the soul. Thanks to the tangy character of the tomato cream sauce, and those little cubes of ratatouille, this is an all-season dish ─ light enough on the palate through hot spells, and rich enough for sweater days.
If you're dining in a group, you'll do well to mix set lunches with a la carte orders for sharing. The Spanish Octopus ($18) from the regular menu was easily one of the best in town, supple with a lovely smoky aroma. But the accompanying patatas bravas almost stole the show, all fluffy and crisp, and we half-contemplated begging Chef to add the spuds as a standalone item on the menu.
Consider sharing the Porta Burger ($23) too. The hefty Angus beef patty arrived to the table a glorious pink, set between toasty brioche buns, and gussied up with caramelised onions, cheddar and crisped bacon. And even at the risk of sounding like we've got potatoes on our brain, we can't help but rave over the side of French fries. Especially with the mini jar of Alain Milliat ketchup (it's $1.50 for an additional bottle, but totally worth it).
The Coconut Blancmange from the set menu ($12 for a la carte) was panna cotta with a tropical spin. The wobbly custard carried a light perfume of coconut, adorned with passionfruit coulis for sultry sweetness, and crumble for crunch. It may sound heavy on paper, it was a surprisingly balanced marriage between bright and soft flavours.
French/European fare at this price bracket isn't entirely new. Saveur and Garçons have done that for a while, at slightly lower price points when comparing a la carte menus. But Porta's cuisine has a certain polishedness that its cheaper competitors lacked (not that we'll fault them much, at the low prices they charge). Soul food, breezy Mediterranean allure and attentive service ─ that's one heck of a winning combination to draw us in for repeat visits.
Porta, level one, Park Hotel Clarke Quay, 1 Unity Street, tel: 6593-8855. Open daily, 11am-10.30pm.