I’m not good with crowds, really.
And I don’t mean it like a typical whinging Singaporean who complains about how difficult life is in the world’s most densely populated city. I suppose it’s a remnant of a darker past, back in the day, when I suffered from clinical depression – the anxiety attack doesn’t always happen, but when it strikes, it’s debilitating. To combat this “naturally”, I need to balance my socialization with anti-socialization. That is, to be alone, feel alone, to sorta create a desire for human interaction, before I can truly face the world – be a normal person and all. And by far, it works, but when the hundreds and thousands of faces just keep pounding, I become very uncomfortable. It’s for this reason that I didn’t attend Pink Dot today. Just as well, I suffered a panic attack at JEM earlier in the afternoon when I was there with my mother.
Pink Dot is a charming little get-together which happens in Singapore every year at the end of June. It celebrates the freedom to love, but this term is, and perhaps intentionally used very broadly because it’s about showing solidarity for Singapore’s gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, whom as of today, have to live their lives in secrecy (due to potential discrimination from all facets of society). Needless to say, the topic of homosexuality is a very sensitive topic here. Traditional Asian culture frowns upon it and views it as an embarrassment – loss of gender roles; while religion decries it as wrongdoing. As a result, there’s a lot of misrepresentation about homosexuality which often comes from imagined assumptions and fear, which may or may not have basis on rationality.
But one venue that doesn’t have any basis on rationality, especially from a convenience standpoint, is The Grandstand. The site, set in the middle of nowhere (among the dwellings of the super rich) was a remnant of British colonial rule as a spot for horse racing, which was the one of the largest spectator sport back in the day. Although it was predominantly a high society affair, horse racing gained popularity with the common man because of betting – a practice as old as the sport itself. With the race course moved, for the last time, to Kranji, the former Turf Club struggled to find a second life. After minor alteration and additions, the site was reborn as Turf City, a mega mall complete with restaurants, shops and a hypermarket. The huge parking lot even took life as a used car sales site! Even mall-loving Singaporeans were put off by the inconvenient location, and it was closed.
The developers then decided to evolve the mall concept into something more unique, targeting new-to-market food concepts while appealing to the (mostly expat or high society) residents by adding expatriate-friendly children’s sports centres and facilities, and that became The Grandstand. The latest iteration seems to have more legs, and while it does get visitors, particularly on weekends, it never does get very crowded, which these days in Singapore, is very rare. If you’re truly all about the “Singaporean Singapore” mindset that’s very prevalent these days, The Grandstand’s a great place to go. There are restaurants, such as the very popular Omakase Burger, which are owned by first-time Singaporean entrepreneurs. And this time, I decided to visit another Singaporean-opened and owned joint, The Ascot.
I’ve actually eaten at The Ascot previously, invited on a media tasting when I was working as a writer then. Due to the limited pages and limited focus, we’d often go for these elaborate media tasting only to give restaurants a 100-word note. So, I took it in me to write actual food reviews on my blog anyways, to give the restaurants a more “justifiable” mention, especially when I wanted the people to know something about the place. My employers were accidentally aware of this, and went along with it as long as it didn’t come to haunt them. I only really stopped doing this after a restaurant’s management (which I largely, until then, for the most part, loved their food) reportedly had a “negative” reaction to the review. On hearing how the poor media public relations liaison got the brunt of that (in my opinion, unnecessary) blast, I decided (on the mild urging of my colleague and Editor) that I’d only write about the restaurants which I paid for, and deleting the majority of the posts I had done on the side.
The Ascot is, in more ways than one, aptly named. It recalls the namesake iconic racecourse in Britain, is a throwback to The Grandstand’s glory days as a racecourse, and lastly, the restaurant serves English grubs. Previously, we were served loads of stuff and I thought that while there were one or two missteps *coughfishnchipscough* even in the context of British food in Singapore, the spread was otherwise stellar enough for me to yearn a trip back. There was a decent crowd this evening, with a fair mix of Asian and Caucasian diners, the latter being a little loud but still wayyy under rowdy with the screening of a game. One thing that caught our (or rather, my) eyes almost immediately was the Weekend Roast of roast beef which came with potatoes with fried bacon, sautéed vegetables and Yorkshire Pudding. Besides the menu, The Ascot offers roast meats on weekends, and this rotates around several meats. At SGD 32, in spite of the value, we still thought it a little pricey, but decided that we’d share that, and a few sides, too. Our conservative attitude paid off, because by the time we were done, we were bloating from all those carbohydrates (thank goodness I hit the gym earlier today).
We were started with a Smoked Tomato Soup served with Turkish bread. The consistency is very reminiscent of the canned tomato soup you’ll find at Marks & Spencer – it’s thick but not starchy, and rich. However, taste wise, there’s a certain je nais se quoi… I’d attribute that to the “smoked” aspect of the soup that gives it an added punch that hits home…if home were in the cold, wet and dull English countryside, I s’pose. The smoked soup really made the complex soup “alive” – with each spoon, you were invaded by the tomato, cream, rosemary and other spices every single time, and I was enjoying that infringement every step of the way.
I really need to ship myself off to London and have a Scotch egg. Sure, it’s not exactly healthy food, but it’s often the most fattening, fried, oily stuff that tastes the most sinfully good.
I can’t remember the last time I had a good roast beef in Singapore… Actually I can, but there was often something that got in the way – the meat would be perfect, a little pinkish red in the centre, and the edges lined with spices, but the sauce would ruin it, or the other way round. Here, I’ve very little to complain, I’d have preferred the beef to show more pink in the centre but The Ascot still delivered. Still, it was wonderfully roasted, the sauce, infused with red wine, gave the beef a wonderfully game flavor to it. The sautéed vegetables didn’t look very fresh (the broccoli wasn’t gleaming green, and the carrots looked sad in its pale orange tinge), but it tasted fine. The potatoes with fried bacon were my favorite. Overall, there seemed to be a deliberate flippant attitude to it all, i.e. the sliced potatoes a little charred, the vegetables not too photogenic, the Yorkshire Pudding doing what it does, but it really added to the raw vibe of a gastropub that The Ascot’s going for. I guess there’s a truth to the saying, perfection in imperfection.