I've never had any trouble keeping a secret, but for my purposes tonight I have to do this just once, so let me let you in on this lovely hidden gem. If, in the days to come you do visit this little sanctuary, remember it was me who told you one of the best kept secrets in the vicinity of the Singapore Botanical Gardens.
This secret is The Dunearn, a warm and unpretentious culinary haven housed within a quaint colonial bungalow. This bungalow also happens to be the newly-restored NUSS Bukit Timah Guild House, and is a place so wrapped with an air of history and beauty that is testament surely to its architectural heritage honours. While part of the NUSS Graduate Club, which I myself will be joining very soon this year, The Dunearn is open to the public and to anyone who loves food. So if you're looking for a peaceful evening away from all the hustle and bustle of the city, let this be your getaway.
Here at The Dunearn, be pampered by comfortable (read: air-conditioned) seating indoors, or better, get close to nature and be surrounded by the lush greenery of the Singapore Botanical Gardens at the pretty patio outside. At nightfall, candles and hanging lights adorn this enchanting private spot, giving it a tranquil and rustic charm. Lovely indeed.
The Dunearn Executive Set Dinner
With the kitchen helmed by a chef who was once with the well-known Les Amis Group, it is always understandable if you find yourself having heightened expectations for what you are going to be served. The Dunearn offers contemporary European cuisine with a good selection of wines, and for those who also believe in pairing good food with value-for-money meals, fret not, this is the place for you.
The executive five-course set dinner menus change monthly (another reason to keep returning!) and are reasonably priced at $39.80++. I've actually just taken a look at the newly released menu for the month of March, and I already hear the baked salmon and braised lamb shank calling my name. Drools. But before I get to that, here's what I had for February.
Wrapped like a baby, the foccacia bread arrived warm and freshly toasted, the way breads should be and the way I like them to be. The wafting aroma of the herbs from the bread was enough to get me all hungry, and for once I was happy my dining partners wanted to save space for the dinner to come. It only meant more bread for me.
Cold Appetiser: Aubergine Parcel with Bull Tomato & Mozzarella Cheese
Veggie lovers would simply adore these little parcels of goodness - sweet bull tomatoes and savoury mozzarella cheese encased in thin but juicy slices of lightly-grilled aubergine. Flavoured with aromatic olive oil, drizzled with basil pesto and adorned with bright-coloured fresh greens, this is definitely one amazing appetiser for the senses.
Soup: Mixed Seafood Velouté with Tomato
This French-inspired soup drew compliments from me from the very first spoonful, and in it alone I could taste the effort that went into it. While it looks deceivingly simple, a simple check on an online dictionary revealed that a velouté is a "white sauce or stock made by boiling down ham, veal, beef, fowl, bouillon, etc., then adding soup stock, seasoning, vegetables, and thickening, and again boiling and straining". I did not expect to find crunchy prawns and chunky fish meat for a soup appetiser, but this is what I had nonetheless and you can say I was impressed. The soup was creamy without being overly thick, as a velouté is meant to be, and I finished this to the drop.
Hot Appetiser: Roasted Sea Bass on bed of Crispy Parmesan
Some pretentious fine-dining restaurant may serve this to you as a main course and at an exhorbitant price, and it may not even taste good. The Dunearn however, served this as an appetiser and is really, true to my heart, a very well-done dish. The cream sauce and slice of parmesan were perfect complements to a generous cut of fresh sea bass, a three-way intimate affair of the smooth, the crispy and the juicy.
Good-tasting things always deserve another look on this blog, and here's another shot of my delicious sea bass. Roasted to a nice pink, the fish was firm to touch but inside it was fresh and moist throughout, with that umami sensation at every forkful. I wouldn't mind having this as my main course really.
Intermezzo: Green Apple Sorbet
In the Italian Renaissance, the intermezzo was a theatrical performance made in between the acts of a play to celebrate special occasions. Here at The Dunearn, it came in the form of a little cup of delicious green apple sorbet that tingled my tastebuds and made me drunkenly wish this was dessert - could I have more of this please? Like the real intermezzo, it's an extraordinary trumpet call to tell us that we're (finally) done with appetisers and that it's time we bring in the much-awaited main courses. Ladies and gentlemen, our three celebrities for tonight.
Main Course: Fillet Mignon
on bed of Raspberry Confit and Red Wine Sauce
Everyone who reads this blog frequently enough knows I love my beef. The pretty vegetables that usually decorate the plate (like this adorable tomato on the left) are often secondary to me, but I do like the way the vegetables here are boiled to softness, especially the baby carrots. My fillet mignon was good, admittedly dry on some parts (in retrospect then, I should have asked for it to be medium-done) but I made do with thinner slices and am still a satisfied man. I also appreciated the sweetness of the raspberry confit since I do not often eat steaks with it and this was a refreshing change.
Main Course: Oven Baked Honey Mustard Flavoured Spatchcock
served with crushed garlic potatoes
This excellent game bird was baked to wonderful tenderness and was much praised and raved by the dining partner Glenn. Like most of the dishes tonight, here was another good balance of tastes, as the delectably sweet honey mustard sauce paired unexpectably well with the garlic-flavoured mashed potatoes. In honour of the gallant spatchcock and the chef's skills, I confess I threw out any well-respected doctor's advice and gamely ate the chicken skin - lightly crisp with that burst of marinate. Sinning has never tasted this good.
Main Course: Braised Australian Red Garoupa
with Double Boiled Lemongrass Broth & Seasonal Vegetables
This was not on the set menu but rather from the ala carte menu which my other dining partner Hui Yuan ordered from, and I could tell she was most satisfied with the lemongrass broth. The lemongrass added a familiar Asian hint of aroma and flavour to the dish and combined nicely with both the colourful array of diced vegetables as well as that generous slab of garoupa. Hui Yuan preferred our sea bass appetiser to her garoupa however, adding that the latter was a tad too overdone for her liking. The roasted sea bass, a starlet of the night indeed.
Dessert: Double-Baked Brownie Cheesecake
served with Macadamia Nut Ice-Cream
After a brief interlude of hot coffee and tasty biscotti, this arrived on my table like a gift from the heavens (cue: choral voices and harp tunes). I wanted a brilliant wrap-up to what has already been an inspiring dinner and asked for my dessert to be changed to the double-baked brownie cheesecake. Was it any good?
Yes, it was, and I'm getting all hungry typing this post at one in the morning. The smooth and slightly thick cheesecake found its pair in a chocolatey brownie, with bits of nuts in it that I simply adore. It would have been even better if it was white chocolate cheesecake with caramel brownie, but then that's actually more of a sin-list than a suggestion. I really, really fancied the macadamia nut ice-cream too which was milky, sweet and nutty.
Dessert: Battered Valrhona Chocolate
with Raspberry Coulis & Vanilla Gelato
Dinner hit the finale note with this loving duet of sweet and sour with hot and cold, and again reveals the remarkable balance that this kitchen has orchestrated the entire night. Imagine crisp, battered chocolate balls with warm, flowing Valrhona chocolate spilling out at a small bite - decadent, and matched with a gently sour raspberry coullis for that welcomed twang. If that's not already enough sensory romance at work, mix the warm chocolate with cold vanilla.
Thank you, for bringing me to heaven and back in one night.
Service here was excellent, the wait staff was always eager to help and regularly filled our glasses. I like it that they were frequently close-by without being intrusive.
$39.80++ for an executive five-course set dinner.
A fee of $5 (50% of actual price) was charged for a change of dessert.
1F Cluny Road, NUSS Bukit Timah Guild House.
Situated within the NUS Bukit Timah Campus.
1. "Veloute", http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Veloute, last accessed 28 February 2010.
This blog post is an entry for the NUSS-BTGH Best Blogger Contest, though the author has tried his best to be as objective and as honest as possible. He hopes you will have an equally enjoyable and memorable time at The Dunearn and invites you to share your experience here.
This entry won the contest! Thank you everyone for your support :)
Pictures taken with the Canon EOS 500D.