When you list international favourites such as pasta, steak and tiramisu on your menu, you are up against the world.
Every city has top restaurants that offer them in one form or another. But if you push it up just a notch further and change the game, you rise above the din.
Mr Mark Wee, 36, did all that eight years ago. He is now open to what twists his local culinary heritage can do for the largely Italian menu at Arbite, his second-storey restaurant with “Ikea-esque” furnishings.
“I have never been overseas for any gig in an international restaurant, so I am not too rigid in my approach to my Western menu,” he said, while also sharing about his stint at Michelangelo’s Italian Restaurant a decade ago.
It was a breath of fresh air to see rendang and even buah keluak infused in Mr Wee’s menu of pasta, parma ham, lasagne and Caesar salad, which he had introduced not too long ago.
The starter of Ayam Buah Keluak Kueh Pie Ti ($8 for six pieces) hits the spot.
The shells were not the common store-bought variety – you can tell just by the crunch that they had more cassava than rice and wheat starch.
The little buah keluak chicken chunks rendered black by the nutty paste, though a tad salty, went well with the crispy shells.
But alas, it was marred by the use of slightly rancid oil in the fryer, which I am sure is not habitual.
I just had to order the Beef Rendang Mac & Cheese ($16). This requires some skill to balance, and he knew how and why.
The rempah in the little chunks of minced beef rendang was cleverly tamed so as not to overwhelm the cheese.
The nice touch was the cup of quickly blanched dou miao in a light vinaigrette – a lovely foil to the beefy and cheesy sensation.
Just because it sounded grandiose, I had the all-day Arbite Breakfast ($15).
It came prettily laid out on a platter – there were greens, soft boiled eggs, bacon, toast, pommes noisettes, sauteed mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, kaya and a curious stick of seafood-laden ngoh hiang.
This is a portion for two, and it was strangely comforting. It needed only coffee to complete the show.
I am not a fan of avocado or garden-variety fish, but I tried the Avocado and Smoked Salmon anyway.
The mashed avocado was under a pile of milky scrambled eggs and sitting on sourdough bread. There was some herbs, a dash of balsamic vinegar and a chunk of smoked salmon too, and it was a pleasure to devour.
The Gula Melaka Tiramisu ($8) came with chocolate dust and mascarpone cheese. The sweet crunch of burnt gula melaka was a pleasant twist and what made this stand out.
These little tweaks, done tastefully and evolved diligently, will keep customers humming along and buzzing in.
66A, Serangoon Garden Way
11.30am to 3pm, 6pm to 10.30pm (Monday to Friday)
9am to 10.30pm (Saturday)
9am to 10pm (Sunday)
This article was first published at The New Paper.