Darwin Bistro Bar
Darwin Bistro.Bar is the newly opened family effort from Junaid and Neeman Rahman and his brother, Ryan Rahman. The team of first time restaurateurs aspires to contribute an intimate bistro concept to Little Italy's ever evolving dining landscape.
The space inherits and improvises on elements left behind by former occupant LAB Restaurant , but makes the interior new with fresh textiles, barn wood wainscoting and custom carpentry behind the bar. The postage-stamp-size dining room is packed to its full potential (read: a little tight), though you might hardly notice if you can score one of the luxe seats on the room's right half.
The menu from Chef Jean Regis Raynaud (formerly of Le Paradis), numbers only seven starters and seven mains, and features ambitious food that claims liberal French influence if not complete faithfulness to that country's culinary traditions.
Starters like the Goat Cheese Tart ($9) are easy to appreciate; warm and buttery puff pastry topped with creamy chèvre, tomato and chive, frisée salad. Then, there's the Moules Frites ($12), served steaming in a bowl of luscious Tom Yum-like, curried coconut cream soup and accompanied by a side of thoroughly seasoned frites in a paper cup.
The Avocado Shrimp Cocktail ($10) is slightly less successful, marred by an oily liquid (or is that dressing?) that pools on top the creamed avocado. The curry spiced shrimp tossed with radishes, mango and coriander underneath is pleasant, which makes the oiliness all the more disappointing.
From the selection of mains, each entry seems to follow a similar formula; massive portions of meat, starch and brown sauce. The Braised Lamb Shank on Chocolat ($23) laid over a herbed polenta cake and painted with savoury chocolate sauce is no exception.
The pineapple topped, Braised Pork Belly ($18) served over nutty Madras rice is glazed with a sticky sweet, almond scented reduction. Here, the pork sports fat an inch thick that likely won't appeal to everyone (myself included) but the oversized portion means that there's plenty of (less fatty) meat to indulge in as well.
Though Chicken & Mashed Potatoes ($18, lead photo) are the sort of menu entry I typically skim past, here it's the surprising winner of the night. Garnished with a pretty bouquet of herbs, it features moist chicken breast, skin-on, with king mushrooms served over cheesy potatoes and rich gravy.
The bar, tended to by Julian Watson, boasts premium cocktails like the Hot Damn ($10) that combines Hendricks Gin, St. Germain, fresh cucumber juice and Tabasco. Draft beers ($6) and a developing wine list are also on offer.
In the coming weeks, locals can look forward to the addition of boulevard patio seating and the launch of daytime and bar menus. What remains to be seen is if Darwin's rich, heavily sauced menu can adapt to suit lighter, fresher palettes once the approaching summer temperatures spike.
Photos by Morris Lum