It’s a bakery. No, it’s a bistro. It’s a bar. What is it?
Tucked behind the trusses of the main street, Nassim Hill by many accounts, has become the newest place to see and be seen. Yet, there’s a certain rustic, homely charm that represses the stench of snobbery from arising. Perhaps it is the incense of freshly baked bread. The general sense of space. The relaxed air exhibited by the staff. Or the fact that one doesn’t feel squeezed in an urban sprawl whilst here. If anything, Nassim Hill has been given credit for its bakery section, which shouldn’t be a surprise because it’s helmed by Chef Audrey, owner of the well-known Freshly Baked boulangerie. Nassim Hill is twinned with 1128, the world’s first Grimbergen flagship, next door. To cement and build on that relationship, Chef Audrey has fashioned a Grimbergen Ambree bread – a hearty wholewheat infused with the Belgian abbey amber ale.
We were started with an Artisan Bread Basket which hones Chef Audrey’s skills. While it didn’t occur to me to verify exactly what goes in, I can tell you that the original creation, Grimbergen Ambree bread, is among the selection. For those hooked on the bakery, you might want to take note that the bread basket isn’t, in fact, seasonal. My advice is, order it once if only to get a feel of what you want to order on your next visit. For your digression, the bread basket comes with French butter and homemade raspberry and orange marmalade jams.
The Hot Reuben really came into its own. The sandwich highlights the versatility of the amber ale infused bread, and serves as one of the bistro’s signature dishes. On any other occasion, the combination of conned beef, melted emmental cheese, sauerkraut and onions is enough to word out most diners. However, this is where the Grimbergen Ambree really worked its magic. The subtle sweetness of the ale manages to anchor a cacophony into an exquisite orchestra, making it seem like the most natural combination. Having said that, I wasn’t able to fully experience the colorful hubris of complex flavors mostly because the filling is too thin. In other words, there is just far too little conned beef, cheese, sauerkraut and onions to really match the thickness and intensity of the bread.
The Grimbergen Fish and Chips is beer battered with the Grimbergen Blanche and it’s obvious. It’s even more amazing when you consider that the fish is a Pacific Dory – the ones you’ll find in supermarkets, frozen and sold in threes rather cheaply – it uplifts the fish, giving it a generally light and refreshing disposition. The chips however, were a dead on disappointment. Liveless, several a tad soggy and completely lacking any crisp, one could easily mistake it as baked potatoes. The mediocrity of the french fries really defined the dish, which is a pity. Everybody loves chips, yet few took more than a few pieces.
Fearing that dinner wasn’t enough, the order for the classic American macaroni and cheese was placed. Owing to the expensive prices of cheese due to the fact that they have to be imported from far, far away, I often try to steer clear of anything that has cheese in them. After all, artificial cheese cordials can be really cheesy or bland (it’s a mixed bag, really) and devoid of any nutritional value. So when I heard they wanted to serve this, I was like, you’ve just put Nassim Hill in trial – I’ve no choice but to judge the prosecution, don’t blame me if I’m cruel or anything… But no, it was okay. It’s not the best mac and cheese in the world or Singapore, but hey, you used real cheese and for that, I’m giving you where credit’s due.
The final course, Braised Meatballs with Artisan Bread Basket was finally served. Tucked in a chasseur sauce prepared with Grimbergen Ambree beer, veal jus, onions and mushrooms, this dish was overwhelmingly pointless. The chasseur sauce was fine, but it ultimately didn’t bring any value to the dish. In fact, the sauce, which was in fact, more like a reduction, was so powerful, it sapped out the flavors of the meatballs. At this point, even IKEA’s Swedish meatballs had more flavor in them than this ones here. While the menu puts them in the centerfold, the outcome leaves the meatballs almost as an afterthought. There was just too much going on here. If they wanted to highlight the meatballs, then the chasseur sauce, augmented not only by the intensity of the veal jus but also by the caramel Ambree, should have been more sparingly used to complement rather than whelm.
Nassim Hill’s not going to win any Miele, Michelin or Zagat awards any time soon. There are certainly sparks of brilliance here, in every dish, even those I didn’t particularly fancy. In keeping the costs a tad lower than what you’d expect of the latest boulangeries and bistros, the final execution comes up a tad short and blunt. It’s certainly good value, and many will be enticed to keep coming back, and so will I, if the occasion calls for it. I mean, we don’t want to spend too much in a bistro. Yes, Singapore is seeing the growth of a new class above the rich. We have more and more restaurants, wellness venues and retail stores that even the rich go, “that’s too expensive”. But hey, there are certain things in life that needn’t have multiple digits.