The Pantry Chefs – A Review and Case Study of What Went Wrong and How They Can Improve

I used to live in McNair Road. It’s a sleepy and quiet neighbourhood that’s almost unknown to everyone. If you’re wondering where it is, it’s about 5-10 minutes away from Boon Keng MRT station.

One thing I didn’t like about living in McNair all those years was the fact that there really wasn’t anything exciting within walking distance. The nearest air-conditioned eateries are either fast food eateries or pricey Chinese restaurants. There isn’t a nice cafe where you could sit and enjoy a good cup of coffee.

While I don’t live there anymore, I was really excited to hear that a cafe finally opened up in the area. It’s called, “The Pantry Chefs.”

The Pantry Chefs at McNair Road
The Pantry Chefs, located at 122 McNair Road

I’m told that it’s a rather nice place to be. You have no idea how much I’ve been wanting to check this place out.

The Fiancée and I were passing by the area and we thought that it would be worthwhile to stop by and give it a try.

Sadly, I found the experience very very disappointing. Instead of writing a review to condemn this establishment, I’ll use this as a case study of what went wrong and how things can be improved.

Review Summary – The Pantry Chefs

Contact Details The Pantry Chefs
122 McNair Road, #01-43
Singapore 320122
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thepantrychefs/
Accessibility About 5-10 minutes walk from Boon Keng MRT. Bus services 21, 125, 130, 139, and 145 stop nearby.
Quality of Service The staff were friendly but service was horrible. The staff consistently forgot our orders and requests
Design / Ambience Cafe is very small and cramped. Some effort was made to furnish the cafe in a way that would seat many customers without feeling like a sardine in a can. While a lot of effort was taken to decorate the facade of the shop, the interior was neglected. Clean white walls and bright lighting gave the cafe a very sterile and clinical feel. Strangely, there’s something about this place that makes it feel like it’s a conducive environment for enjoying a book over a cup of coffee or tea.
Quality of Food For the prices we paid, the quality of food was disappointing. The food took an unreasonably long time to be prepared and served. The ingredients were of cheap quality. The breakfast meal was very salty and oily; and the red velvet cake was not a true red velvet cake, but a cake that happened to be reddish in colour. This is the kind of standard I’d expect in a school canteen or a Western food stall in a hawker centre or food court. For an eatery that aspires to be a cafe and charges cafe-type prices, I expected more.
Price Unreasonably priced for the quality of food served.
Overall Recommendation The people running this eatery seemed extremely inexperienced. I would only recommend this place to people looking for a nice place to hang out (either alone with a book, or with friends) while enjoying a cup of coffee or tea.
Disclosure: This review was written freely by me. There were no remuneration or gifts of any kind.

 

The Good

This eatery put in an incredible amount of effort to make the facade of their shop as attractive as possible. The shopfront attracts attention and stands out amongst all the other neighbourhood shops as the one and only cool cafe to be in. There’s a signage outside telling you about their special promotions.

When you enter the cafe, you can smell the wonderful aroma of coffee and the sweet sweet smell of fried bacon. The menu was well-designed and looked very professional.

The Pantry Chefs at McNair Road
The front of the shop is very beautifully decorated and attractive.

We were impressed. Even though we noticed how small and cramped the inside of the cafe was, we were so impressed by our initial experience, that we wanted to stay and try their food.

In the area of making a good first impression, I’d give them a very high score.

What Went Wrong (and How to Improve)

But I guess this cafe made too high an impression that it left us very disappointed.

After the great first impression, everything went downhill.

We were brought to the back of the shop, and seated on a lovely white Ikea bench with lots of cushions on it. It was nice, BUT here we were in a space that was barren and clinical: a room with almost nothing but plain white walls, bright lights and a real Christmas tree that was dying.

While the front was so well decorated, the back was barren and clinical. Here we were in a room with nothing but white walls, bright lights, and a dying Christmas tree.

The Pantry Chefs at McNair Road
It was quite an experience to dine next to a withering Christmas tree.

It was nice of them to try to put a real Christmas tree, but more effort should have been taken to care for such a tree.

If anything, this withering Christmas tree is quite representative of the cafe and its operations. Lots of good ideas and intentions, but a poor execution that was not well thought through.

The space at the back could do with a lot more thought. Some mirrors would help to make the place look spacious.

It’d be nice if they could break the monotony of the white walls with some decorations as well.

What they lack is a theme. For a cafe with a catchy name, “The Pantry Chefs,” more could be done to develop that concept in the decor of the cafe. What kind of pantry are they aspiring to be? A boring office pantry? Or an inspiring one? Or a fun one? Or is this a pantry where people gather to gossip and chit chat as an escape from the boredom and mundane routine of work? How would such a pantry look? These are the questions that would help develop the concept further, materialising it in the design and experience of the cafe space.

This may mean doing something silly like hanging pots and pans on the walls just for decoration. Many eateries do that as well. It may be a waste of pots and pans, but when tastefully done, the cafe will become a space for a unique experience. Dining isn’t just about the food, but about the experience of the food in a particular space.

When one is confined to almost nothing but white walls, the dining experience is limited to the food and the staff. And if the food and staff fail to perform well, the experience of disappointment in their failure will be amplified – as was the case for us.

Let’s move on to the food (and service).

We ordered their breakfast combo comprising bacon, ham, and a sausage with baked beans, hash brown, and a cup of scrambled eggs with truffle oil; a red velvet cake and a cup of hot chocolate.

Unfortunately, their cash register failed to work. The lady taking our order should have written the order down, but she didn’t. Instead kept asking me to repeat. I found myself having to repeat the order to her about 3-4 times.

While waiting, I got up to get two glasses of water from their water dispenser (water with a tinge of lemon). We took a sip from our glasses and agreed that there was something wrong with the water. Either the lemon had gone bad, or they had squeezed too much lemon juice into the water. Regardless, the water was very unpleasant to drink.

What surprised us was the fact the food took an unreasonably long time to come. 20 minutes, to be precise. It was just bacon, ham, sausage, baked beans, hash brown and eggs. How hard could that be? In a hawker centre, this would have been ready in less than 5 minutes.

So after 20 long and painful minute staring at the blank white walls and the dying Christmas tree, we were finally served.

But we were disappointed with what we saw:

The Pantry Chefs at McNair Road
This costs SGD$11?! And how did this take 20 minutes to prepare? Also, the lady served us this plate with the spoon sticking out of the bowl. She didn’t serve us a spoon by the side. Very bad service.

Here is a plate full of ingredients that tastes like the cheap ingredients that you get from the supermarket. How do they justify such a high price? I could cook a much better meal for two, with better quality ingredients at that price. Heck, the hawker centre Western stall could do much better at a lower cost.

While I was impressed by the fact that the eggs were cooked using a microwave (I could never get eggs like this with a microwave), I was still disappointed. At such a high price, I expected the eggs to be cooked on a stove. And especially when the eggs are served together with bacon, sausage, and ham, I expected the eggs to be cooked using the bacon fat. That way, the flavour of the eggs would be enhanced. That said, the eggs were well-cooked and the (unnecessary) addition of truffle oil made the egg the best item on the plate.

Moreover, the meats were soaked in a lot of grease. Yes, I know bacon is fatty and oily – but this is the only eatery I’ve been to where the bacon sits in a POOL of oil. I’ve never seen so much oil on my plate before. That was a huge turn off.

The hash brown was the typical frozen hash brown that you can get from the supermarket. It wasn’t made from scratch. For an ingredient so cheap, I was appalled that they only gave one piece.

As a dish on a whole, there was certainly no harmony of flavours. It’s a poorly thought out dish that’s so rich in fat and salt that it left us feeling very uninspired, sad, and quite disgusted by what we ate.

If you’re going to have a lot of meat on the plate, it should be balanced with other ingredients. Sure, the hash brown, baked beans, and eggs were there, but they had very strong flavours that competed with the strong flavours of the bacon, ham and sausages.

The addition of sides with a hint of citrus, like a fresh salad drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette or a few drops of lemon juice, would do the trick.

They could also certainly have been more generous with the eggs and hash browns.

When the lady asked us if we needed anything else, I requested for an additional fork and knife. She verbally acknowledged my request, but never came back with the fork and knife. Instead, she walked away – immediately forgetting my request – and went on with her work. I kept quiet to see if she would come back with it. She never did.

Later, another staff came and asked if we wanted the cake and drink. Once again, they got the order wrong, and we had to correct her.

We asked for the cake to be served immediately. We weren’t sure if we had to wait another 20 minutes for cake.

After a while, the red velvet cake came.

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The cake is a lie.

These people don’t seem to know what a red velvet cake is. A red velvet cake is not just a cake that happens to be reddish in colour. It should also have cream cheese or roux icing. This tastes more like an ordinary chocolate cake that happens to be red with whip cream. I say chocolate cake because the chocolate sauce they used was so overpowering, it made the whole cake taste like chocolate cake.

The cake was not enjoyable at all.

Thankfully, the hot chocolate was good. But that’s because they used a hot chocolate powder. Disappointingly, they didn’t have the sense to use the espresso machine to froth the milk. Would have made it better.

Overall, the experience was disappointing. I do think the staff need to observe and learn the best practices of other F&B outlets. How to decorate the interior, how to prepare food faster, how to serve customers, how to match ingredients for a balanced dish, and how to remember orders.

Also, for the cafe experience and pricing, they should really consider increasing the quality of their ingredients. If they are willing to sacrifice on the quality of ingredients – even if for the noble reason of reducing their losses – to the extent of becoming as bad or worse than an unpopular Western food stall in a hawker centre, it reflects a grave lack of pride in one’s cooking. And if you cannot take pride in having a certain standard in the food you prepare, then maybe you should consider doing something else.

I certainly hope that this cafe will work hard to improve.