SINGAPORE — It must have taken a lot of gumption, guts, and nerves of steel to name your restaurant after a seasoning. And not just any old seasoning, mind you, but a flavour element most places seem to be cutting back on as Singaporeans start to be more concerned about their health. It also happens to be my favourite seasoning, SALT, a fitting moniker coined by the owner and founder Shermaine Khoo for her solo foray into Singapore’s bustling restaurant scene.
I say solo because Shermaine used to run famed Kream and Kensho at Kampung Bahru with her brother, Sherman Khoo until they decided to part ways so she can focus on developing dishes that are more in line with her culinary philosophy—clean and unfussy, stripped of all filigree so that the food can take centre stage.
Here at SALT, Chef Daniel Chew takes on the role of culinary commander-in-chief, doling out dishes inspired by his staging at such storied establishments as No Sleep Club, Atlas Bar, and Saint Pierre. The restaurant, as its Instagram account declares, delivers a contemporary dining experience, which doesn’t really say much about the kind of cuisine it purports. Sometimes it feels like such designations are a coerced necessity so that diners can set up expectations and make dining decisions based on mere semantics. It’s hardly necessary, especially for a restaurant like SALT, where the food speaks eloquently for itself.
It helps that SALT’s culinary exploration is paired with comfortably wallet-friendly prices. I reckon a first date—non-committal, bills split—would work well at a place like this. To start, the timeless and classic Truffled Cheese Toasties (S$15+), which Shermaine hesitated to recommend because it could be too typical for my taste buds. Unknown to her, I love ‘normal’ especially when done right, and here this elevated grilled cheese sandwich ticks all the right boxes for a classic executed with finesse. I especially enjoyed the sweet caramelised onions within that contrasts so boldly with the trio of smoked cheddar, fontina, and comte. A kid will devour this in seconds. Adults will appreciate the side serving of pickled celery, a bright element that indicates thought.
I remember gasping at the Chorizo Financier (S$12+), a brilliant thing of an appetiser that will set off fireworks in your mouth. Chorizo has been mixed into the almond cake, baked, and served with beautiful sour plum butter. It’s surprising, bold, and brave, and for financiers, that’s a tall order to match.
Mains come by way of an Octopus (S$22+) that’s soft like a pillow you bring to bed at night to hug for comfort. On this, Chef Daniel brushes a Habanero Aioli—a heady mix of spice and acidity that makes this such a joy to eat. But, while I thoroughly enjoyed the Octopus, I wondered if the Hazelnut Pesto and Puffed Rice were necessary, hardly adding elements of texture to the presentation—at least that’s what I think it was designed for. It needs a little more R&D, I reckon.
I also had the Scampi Bisque Linguine (S$23+), a pasta dish that’s soulful and delicately seafood-forward with a subtle touch of brininess from infusing scampi heads into the broth. It’s not Chorizo Financier, wow, but for a pasta dish, it suffices. I can’t help thinking of how homemade this comes across, as if it’s something I would cook for a Saturday dinner at home. A little bit more character and chunkier crab meat would make this more restaurant-forward.
I save the highest praise for the Chicken Supreme (S$20+), a wholly unassuming piece of pale chicken breast that packs such a surprising punch from brining and being sous vide low and slow for 15 whole hours. It’s soft, moist, and will make a convert out of a non-believer of all things chicken breast. This sits on an impressively flavourful burnt leek veloute and served with a brilliantly bold charred romaine heart for a touch of personality. It’s utterly sexy and not in a way that I expected.
Dinner concludes with a Chocolate Cremux (S$16+) made with 70% Valrhona dark chocolate, sea salt, barley grains, and bitter coffee granita that greatly help balance this sweet presentation. It’s good, albeit a tad predictable though my reticence could be due to my insouciance towards anything chocolate.
As a new entrant helmed by a youthful restaurateur, one would expect a place like this to serve out more misses than hits. Fortunately, youthfulness does not equate to a lack of experience and a willingness to be party of intensive R&D. I’m certain they’re still in the process of minor tweaks and changes even as this is published, something I recommend they never stop doing because there’s much hope to be held in a place like this. And in an F&B scene like the one we’re currently experiencing, hope is, at times, the only thing we can reliably count on.
49 Circular Rd, S049404
Tues to Sat: 11.30am – 10.30pm
Sun: 11.30am – 2.30pm