The Fantastic Experience of Fine Dining at Casual Dining Prices – Roots Kitchen Bar @ Dickson Road

Last week, I was invited to review a newly opened restaurant called, “Roots Kitchen Bar.” I was very intrigued by the idea behind their eatery and thought that it would be worthwhile to check it out.

What attracted me was the concept behind their restaurant, which was so noble yet simple: To provide the experience of fine dining (i.e. professionally prepared dishes made from scratch matching the standards of fine dining restaurants), in a relaxed, cosy and unpretentious environment – and most importantly – at casual dining prices.

This is achieved through the expertise of Chef Alvin Tan, who has had 8 years of experience working in signature fine dining restaurants, specialising in both French and Italian cuisines. In fact, his reputation as a chef extends far beyond Singapore, that he was headhunted two years ago to run a signature restaurant in the Maldives! Wow!

Now, he’s back in Singapore and happy to serve a wide array of sumptuous dishes to a broader audience. Sharing the joys and delights of fine dining with fellow Singaporeans in a cosy and relaxing environment.

Wow… The experience of fine dining without the price of fine dining? Amazing!

Food prepared by a chef with such great culinary fame and experience? Double amazing!

I had to check it out.

I accepted the invitation and on Sunday, visited the Roots Kitchen Bar with The Fiancee.

Review Summary – Roots Kitchen Bar

Contact Details Roots Kitchen Bar
30 Dickson Road, Singapore 209512

Tel: +65 62915679
Website: http://rootskitchen.bar/

Accessibility Easy to access – Walking distance from Bugis, Little India, and the upcoming Rochor MRT Station. They have their own parking spaces, but you should call to reserve a table and parking space.
Quality of Service Excellent – Fine dining quality service without fine dining prices
Design / Ambience Excellent – Interior was designed for both aesthetical and practical purposes; perfect environment for a relaxing meal or drinks with friends
Quality of Food Excellent – Fresh ingredients used; the chef is creative, playful and a magician capable of producing the most amazing culinary surprises with flavours; dishes are exciting, refreshing and delicious, leaving you yearning for more; a great experience of fine dining for such an affordable price
Price Expect to spend about SGD$30-50 per person; still more affordable that most fine dining establishments
Overall Recommendation The experience far exceeded my expectation in every aspect. I could fine no fault with this eatery. I left with a happy and full belly, and many good memories of the food.

I strongly recommend this restaurant to anyone who’s serious about great tasting food. I will definitely come again with friends.

Disclosure: I was offered a 50% discount on the bill for writing a review for them. I’ve done my best to be objective and comprehensive in my assessment. That being said, the experience here was so amazing, that I would have written exactly the same thing even without the offer.

The location seemed a little odd. As you walk down Dickson Road (and Upper Dickson Road), you will find a peculiar mix of Indian grocery shops and hardware shops. You would not expect a restaurant to be here. That being said, this area is beginning to be THE place for new restaurants to operate, especially with the new Rochor MRT Station opening soon.

When we arrived, we were surprised at how old school the restaurant’s exterior looks. It’s a new restaurant, but it look like its an establishment that has been around for some time. One thing I particularly liked was how it reminds me of Singapore when I was much younger, with a small space in front for cars to park – there’s no need to worry about parking if you’re driving down here to eat!

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This scene evokes a little nostalgia of Singapore in the past, where you could park your car just outside an eatery. And yes, you can make a table and car park reservation. No need to worry about parking!

 

Excellent Quality of Service

Entering the restaurant, we were greeted and served by Mr. Derek Ong, one of the restaurant’s partners and barista. He was very friendly and sincere – and that went a long way in making the experience here a really wonderful and memorable one.

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Mr. Derek Ong honing his excellent barista skills, as he prepares a cafe latte for us.

Like any fine dining establishments, Derek took the time to elaborate on the dishes: the ingredients used, how they are prepared, and the flavours I can expect from them. It’s remarkable how he’s able to remember so many minute details without the need for a reference. This wasn’t special treatment because I was invited to review their restaurant. No, I witnessed how it was the standard treatment to EVERY SINGLE GUEST! This isn’t expected at a casual dining restaurant, but they have chosen to go the extra mile to provide not only fine dining food, but excellent fine dining service as well.

 

Ingenious Design and Perfect Ambience

Allow me to say a little bit about the design of the entire restaurant and the ambience before we get to the food, because I am impressed far beyond all expectations. Every little detail about this restaurant has been carefully thought out. EVERYTHING. I love how so much attention to detail was paid and every effort made to bring out a coherent theme and concept, while also ensuring the best experience possible.

Let me start with the logo. I didn’t realise this until I started writing this review. Take a look at this:

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Are you able to spot the subtle brilliance in this logo?

Well, the diamond dot in between “kitchen” and “bar” is not there for no reason. If you do read the diamond as a dot, you get the restaurant’s website address: http://rootskitchen.bar

Very very clever.

They’ve gone for a post-industrialist design for the interior. In layman terms, that’s basically raw concrete walls, bare bricks, and visible wires – basically the look of an unfinished renovation.

I usually cringe at such a design at most eateries due to the poor execution of the style. Too much plain concrete walls will result in a lot of echo and amplification of noise, making it a very unpleasant place to be in. I’ve been to several eateries like this, and it sounds like an entire hawker centre cramped into a small room. It’s horrible. While concrete walls do a great job in keeping the room cold, too many of such bare walls and air-conditioning will make you feel like you’re dining in a freezer. Also, the problem with many eateries’ post-industrial execution is that they end up with too much dull colours, making it look like a very cold and dreary place to be in. These places are horrible to be in. It’s no wonder so many of these eateries have few or no customers.

In contrast, Roots Kitchen Bar has an excellent execution of the post-industrialist design, which I think many eateries should learn from!

The bare bricks on their walls are not just for aesthetic purposes. They’re carefully placed at strategic location to absorb sound, thereby making the entire restaurant a very pleasant place to dine in. People can converse to their hearts content without offending the ears of other people.

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The brick walls are strategically placed to absorb noise, making the environment very pleasant to one’s ears.

We realised this because there was a big bachelorette party going on. The girls were talking and laughing very loudly, but somehow, it didn’t affect us.

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A well-designed interior can make a big difference. Despite the loud noise coming from the bachelorette party, the bricks did a wonderful job in absorbing much of the noise, thus maintaining the pleasantness of our dining experience.

Usually, the noise of such parties would drive The Fiancee and I insane, but it didn’t. There weren’t any carpeting to absorb the sounds either. It was only after carefully observing the interior did we finally realise that it was the bricks doing the job. Amazing!

Also, the music is pleasant. It’s not too loud, but it’s just the right kind of music to create the atmosphere of relaxation. Personally, it’s not the kind of music that I’ll listen to on my own, but it’s still an excellent choice as background music for creating the right mood for a place like this.

The choice of lighting was well thought out too. There’s a lot of warm incandescent lighting employed throughout the place. Not too bright, but just enough to give you the warm, cosy feeling, while allowing you to read the menu and look at your food. In addition, the lighting seems to be strategically placed to balance out the cold air coming from the air conditioning. The Fiancee, who’s usually very sensitive to air conditioning, wasn’t affected by the cold at all.

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This Christmas, they’ve brought in a real pine tree. The sweet scene of pine fills the restaurant. How lovely!

Overall, the interior was so well designed that the environment was so comfortable and pleasant to be in. I don’t think I have ever been to a restaurant with such a wonderfully pleasant and relaxing environment, and – to emphasis because it means so much to me – one that has great sound absorbing acoustics so that it won’t offend your ears.

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Every table candle is beautifully decorated for Christmas. The colours are lovely and they match the interior of the restaurant. It’s a small thing, but it goes a long way in making the experience great!

This is such a pleasant environment to be in, that even if you’re not hungry, you can always come by to relax and enjoy a nice wine, beer, or cider, or even a coffee or tea. They have a wide variety of drinks available:

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A wide variety of drinks for you to enjoy while you relax in this pleasant environment. This photo is but a small sample of what they have. The drinks all look very interesting and I definitely want to come back to try them all.

Food and Drinks

Alright, let’s talk about the food and drinks!

Derek did a wonderful job describing the dishes, to such an extent that they all sounded so good and irresistible. We wanted to try EVERYTHING!!! But our limited belly sizes could not allow us to do that. It was a tough decision, but in the end The Fiancee and I decided to order a few dishes to share.

Here’s what we ordered:

Roots Signature 3-Course Set Meal (SGD$50*, nett)
Roasted Tomato Soup with chorizo, red pepper and crab guacamole
Seared Atlantic Sea Bass with chef’s seasonal creation
Citron & Passion curd of lemon and passion fruit with marshmallow cookie ice cream
Wine, one glass of Pierre Jean Merlot 2014

Pig & Eggs (SGD$11*, nett)
Pulled pork, sauteed onion, mushroom, fresh basil and cheese

Ocean Crab Pasta (SGD$18*, nett)
Served with a delicate sauce of crab meat and lobster bisque

Valrhona Cacao Mouse (SGD$12*, nett)
With blackcurrant granita and fresh berries

Cafe Latte (SGD$*,nett)

*prices accurate as of 6 December 2015

Ok, maybe “a few” is an understatement. We did order a lot, but we certainly enjoyed the food.

If you notice, there is no service charge or GST at all. This is one of their ways of keeping the prices affordable while maintaining high quality standards of food.

We started out with some drinks. I was very happy to learn that they were serving my favourite red wine here as part of their set meal.

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The Pierre Jean Merlot 2014 – my favourite red wine!

I don’t really like red wine, but if I have to order it, I’ll only make an exception for this particular label. Something about the taste of this wine appeals to me. The wine is smooth and the flavours are subtle. It’s not as strong in its taste compared to many other labels of red wine. Perhaps this is why it’s the only red wine I love to drink.

We also ordered a latte, which was prepared personally by Derek himself.

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This latte is the perfect cup for a cold rainy day.

Derek’s specialty is brewing the best milk coffees. For the perfect blend of milk and coffee, he chooses to go for a less potent brew. (Of course, if you want something stronger, you can always request a more potent brew.) This is the first time I’ve heard this, but we trust his barista skills and went ahead with his way of brewing coffee. Oh, did I mention that he uses Meiji milk? It’s the best milk I’ve tried! I was very happy to hear that.

He returned with his specialty brew, and true to his word, this is the best cafe latte I’ve ever tasted! There’s something so heart-warming about it. This is the kind of drink that is perfect for a cold rainy day. Everything about it – the texture, the taste, the smell, the feeling of the coffee going down your throat – makes you feel warm and loved. I’ve had hot chocolates that’s fit for a cold rainy day before. But never a lovely hot cup of coffee. This was an amazing experience for me.

Wow!

Shortly after, the first dish to arrive was the Roasted Tomato Soup.

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Roasted tomato soup with chorizo, red pepper and crab guacamole

Derek informed us that the white thing in the centre was the crab guacamole.

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Behold the amazing crab guacamole!

As a finishing touch, we had to stir the crab guacamole into the soup. It was so soft, that as we began stirring it, the crab guacamole began dispersing bit by bit into the soup. It was fun to watch.

How did it taste? Amazing!

It was an explosion of flavours.

With every sip, I could taste the tomatoes’s gentle acidic (sour) flavour complemented by the sweetness of the both the tomatoes and roasted red capsicum. If you allow the soup to rest in on your tongue for a little bit longer, you’ll discover a lovely surprise. Slowly but gently, the roasted smokey flavours of the capiscum and the chorizo began to arise in my field of consciousness. It made the soup so exciting. How is it possible that you could taste distinct flavours in two stages? It was amazing.

This was a soup that made me want to close my eyes as I enjoy it as slowly as I possibly could. First to savour the perfect harmony of sweet and acidic, and second to be surprised and refreshed as the sweet delicious smokey flavour seem to arise from nowhere.

The crab guacamole and the soup were also a complementary pair. The soup enhanced the flavours of the crab, while the crab enhanced the flavours of the soup, giving each sip a whole new dimension. Now there’s the added seafood flavour arising with the sweet and acidic. And as the smokey flavours arise in your field of consciousness, you encounter something new! A new taste, a new beautiful experience!

Wow! Wow! Wow!

The bread was delicious too. It’s not just an ordinary slice of baguette (the bread so often served with soups in restaurants). No. It was an artisan bread with black olives in it. You could taste the sweet sweet taste of the olives too. The bread matched the soup very very well too.

Perhaps the only “tragedy” of this dish is that the soup is so good, that the bread – despite its amazing taste and quality – pales in comparison and fades into the background. The soup is so heartwarming, so excitingly delicious, that you cannot help but to focus all your awareness on the soup. But that is fine. It was the soup that I ordered, not the bread. If I wanted to enjoy the bread for the bread’s own sake, I would call for a bread dish.

The next dish was the Pig and Eggs.

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Pig and Eggs!

This is on the brunch menu, and though we knew that we would be overeating, Derek’s description of the dish convinced us that we had to try it, even if it meant overeating.

He said: The eggs are prepared in two distinct styles. Outside, you have a fried omelette, but on the inside, you have scrambled eggs filled with cheese, onions, and pulled pork.

Two egg styles in one?! We had to see and give it a taste.

And true enough, the dish came, a fried omelette on the outside, and scrambled eggs with cheese, onions and pulled pork on the inside!

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A fried omelette on the outside, and scrambled eggs with cheese and pulled pork on the inside.

It was a truly heartening meal and one that would make for the perfect brunch.

The pulled pork was sumptuous too. It was not too salty (thankfully), and its flavours brought out the taste of the eggs.

Of course, the combination of cheese, eggs, and pork is a very heavy combination, and one that would make you easily tire from it. And this is where Chef Alvin’s creativity comes in!

The sides were specifically designed to break the monotony and the heaviness of the eggs and pork. There were sauteed mushrooms (mixed variety), and salad drizzled with lemon and olive oil. These two sides produced a very light feeling, balancing out the heaviness of the meal. The variety of flavours from the sides – especially that of the lemon and olive oil dressing – added a refreshing zest to the dish.

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Sauteed mushrooms and salad drizzled with lemon and olive oil. The perfect companions for a hearty dish.

But, I think, the real magic of the dish comes when you eat the sauteed mushrooms along with the eggs. The mix of light and refreshing with something heavy and heartening brought out an taste experience that was surprisingly new. Like the magic secret key that would unlock everything in a game, the mushrooms and eggs together unlocked and unleashed all flavours and brought them out in full force. My eyes opened widely in surprise and glee. I didn’t realise food could be so exciting.

The next dish was the Ocean Crab Pasta.

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I like how the chef arranged the seafood pasta into the shape of a fish.

Having tried two dishes, we were both very excited to try the next. What new surprises would this dish have for us?

Well, first of all, let me say just how generous they are with the crab meat.

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Look at the generous amount of crab meat!

The plate is just full of it!

And look at the size of each piece of crab!

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Look at the size of each chunk of crab meat! So generous!

Such generosity!

So… How was it?

You know the wonderful heartwarming sensation you get when you eat instant noodles (specifically Maggie Mee) late at night when you’re hungry and in need of a late night snack? That wonderfully warm feeling in you that makes you feel so good about yourself?

This pasta was able to recreate that same wonderful sensation. This was the big surprise of this dish. And we loved it!

This is the most amazing hearty comfort food I have ever tasted.

As the name suggests, it’s a lobster bisque pasta with crab meat. The pasta tastes like really fresh and high quality lobster bisque soup, which on its own is already very delicious. The pasta is cooked a little softer than al dente, but I think this is what gives this dish such a wonderful heartwarming sensation.

In addition to that wonderful sensation, the pasta was so delicious, that it was extremely addictive! We could not stop eating it.

It was sooooooo sooooooooo good!

Now we await in excitement for the next dish… the Seared Atlantic Sea Bass.

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Seared Atlantic Sea Bass with fresh succulent prawns, celery and asparagus.

The seared sea bass was served with a side of fresh succulent prawns, celery and asparagus.

The sauce at the side was made from frying the prawns and vegetables, but with the addition of garlic and lots of butter. It went very well with the fish and with the sides. But that being said, the fish and the sides were so good, that you could eat them on its own. The Fiancee and I don’t like the taste of celery, but to our surprise, the celery was so well-prepared and cooked, that it did not have the strong taste that would normally put us off celery. We enjoyed it very much.

Now comes the best part – the fish!

The bottom of the fish was marinated in black pepper and seared. I don’t know how the chef did it, but if you allow the marinated side of the fish to sit on your tongue, you will slowly begin to taste the natural sweetness of the black pepper!

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So well-marinated with black pepper that you can discern the natural sweetness of black pepper. Delicious!

The portion between the seared base and the skin is both juicy and tender. Here, you can taste the natural flavours of the sea bass. This portion of the fish has a slightly creamy texture. Eaten together with the base, you encounter a lovely mix of textures, soft slight creaminess mixed with a slight chewiness. A very delightful experience.

Lastly, the top portion of the fish, with its skin rich in creamy fish fat. Every bite releases the delicious fresh flavour of seared sea bass. It’s incredible.

Everything on the plate is so good you can enjoy it on its own. But you should try it together with the sauce on the side. It’s very rich and very satisfying.

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Juicy tender sea bass.

And now, it’s time for dessert!

First, we have the Valrhona Cacao Mousse.

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Cacao Mousse. Love the way it is presented on the plate.

I found this dish very difficult to photograph. But trust me on this: it looks a lot better in real life than in the photos.

It’s a rich chocolate mousse which is quite unlike most chocolate mousse that I’ve tried. This is not the usual light and fluffy type of mousse. No, this one has substance. Each scoop of the spoon or bite hints at the rich chocolate goodness within. Like a good bar of dark chocolate, it is not too sweet, but it has a fair bit of the dark chocolate bitterness, both of which are perfect together. What’s amazing about this mousse is that it is not too heavy either, so no matter how much you eat of this, you will not feel guilty.

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A close-up shot of the cacao mousse.

It is matched with a blackcurrant sauce. If you eat it on its own, you might find it to be a bit too sour. But the magic of harmony begins when you mix the blackcurrant sauce with the mousse. Once again, it’s another sensory surprise. Somehow, the chef got the right balance of sweet, bitter, and sour, that these harmonise so well that it tastes like a whole new flavour altogether. Simply amazing!

Last but not least, we have the Citron and Passion dessert.

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Elegant and beautiful

Here we have a curd made from lemon and passion fruit, mixed with tart crusts and ice cream sandwiched between two marshmallow cookies.

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Delicious ice cream sandwiched between two cookies

I love how the desserts are so beautifully decorated on the plate.

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A close-up shot of the beautiful dessert. An incredible work of art.

Like the mousse, the chef has once again done an excellent job. The curd is intensely sour, while the ice cream is intensely sweet. Sure, you can balance out those flavours with the cookie and the tart crust, but the real magic and the surprise comes when you begin to mix all these different items on the plate together. Once again, you’d be surprised how the sweet and sour tastes harmonise with one another to create a new flavour that leaves you craving for more!

Indeed, if you want to understand the true meaning of harmony – where differences can not only co-exist but also mutually support each other to produce something truly beautiful, you don’t have to read a book. You just have to try the dishes and the desserts here.

My experience here has been incredible. I can find no fault with this place or the food. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered food so exciting before. The Fiancee agrees too. This has been really fun.

Would I come here again? YES! You bet I will. And I will definitely recommend anyone and everyone to try it out.