For years I have celebrated my birthday over dinner. Usually, at somewhere swanky, which serves a decent drop of wine. But this year was different. I had just had a baby and hadn’t dined out (let alone slapped on any makeup!) for quite some time. So this year I decided to play it safe and go for a birthday lunch instead. After numerous days (okay, I admit it, weeks) of scouring the internet for ideas while baby was napping, I decided to reserve a table at Artichoke for the special occasion. What a delightful treat it was! Of course, getting dressed up to go out is always a “treat” these days. But even so, the food at Artichoke was sumptuous.
Flossie’s Rating: ★★★★★
Inspired Middle Eastern
Artichoke is not a pretentious restaurant. They wholeheartedly admit their food ain’t authentic, and this is what convinced me to visit in the first place! Because let’s face it, there are no truly authentic Middle Eastern places in Singapore. Artichoke takes inspiration from Middle Eastern cuisine to create unique and vibrant modern dishes. In their own words, they are a “funky” Arab eatery. Eggplant, chickpeas, lamb, and cumin make plenty of appearances. A quick read of their website had my stomach rumbling.
I booked online and requested a table for two with room for a pram. When we entered the restaurant, which is hidden in a nook behind an old church, I was dubious. The place looked rustic as well as packed! Would we be comfortable? Fortunately, they had set aside a large wooden table at the back of the restaurant for us that was both quiet and spacious.
Our first order of business was to get a drink. We asked for two special cocktails called “GGNR” – a refreshing concoction of Citadelle gin (a personal favourite of mine that I discovered on the Singapore Gin Journey) stirred with pink grapefruit juice. Our pretty pink drinks were garnished with fresh rosemary springs and some deliciously crunchy dried grapefruit slices.
When it comes to Arab grub, I love the appetisers the best. I can never get enough hummus or babaganoush! Artichoke offers a unique twist on some of these classics. The hummus is made with Iraqi spiced mushrooms. Their babaganoush is whipped with labneh and sesame. I was tempted. But, seeing as it was a special occasion, I pushed myself to try something different. We ordered the beetroot borani, which was a bright pink dip served with charred radicchio, cream cheese, and three-nut dukka, plus a bag of warm bread.
Now, my hubby is not a big fan of beetroot, but both of us gobbled up this dip like there was no tomorrow. The creaminess of the cheese took the edge off the beetroot (which tasted like the pickled variety – the flavour was more biting than dull) and gave the dip a velvety consistency. The radicchio provided smokey contrast while the nuts added some wonderful texture. My only peeve was the bread, which was a white loaf as opposed to flat Arabic bread.
This fantastically coloured tarty-nutty dip was also acted as a wonderful condiment to our main dishes later.
We ordered the beefsteak tomatoes as a second appetiser. Talk about chunky! These tomatoes were sliced thickly with maximum juiciness despite their greenish appearance. Our salad was garnished with a dollop of labneh (a thick, plain yogurt that is similar in consistency to mascarpone), pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, and basil. Despite the so-called exotic additions, the dish as a whole tasted plain rather than Arabic. The dish could have done with a dash of vinegar or some cracked sea salt to enhance the flavours, or some extra labneh with a touch of pepper. Nonetheless, since the tomatoes were so fresh the salad was still delicious.
The Main Event
We heartily enjoyed our starters. But the main dishes really blew us away. The surprising star of the meal was the cauliflower. My husband, who is a massive meat-eater, loved this vegetarian dish. Imagine that!
Cauliflower is difficult to master as it contains a lot of water. It is easily over-cooked and mushy. However, I can assure you the chefs at Artichoke know how to handle this tough vege. A huge chunk of cauliflower head was roasted to perfection (with just a few crispy bits!) atop a bed of yellow-coloured rice. The texture of the cauliflower mirrored that of the rice – firm and grainy. With each spoonful, I could barely distinguish when one ingredient ended and the next began. The dish was mildly spiced with what I suspect was a blend of cumin, saffron, cloves, and cardamon. Whatever the secret combination was, it was beautifully fragrant without being hot or peppery. The addition of yogurt and sprinkling of pomegranate seeds helped make this dish truly moorish.
We also ordered the house specialty, lamb. This lamb steak is cooked for 12 hours over a charcoal grill and served with spiced chickpeas. While the lamb was a little bit fatty (isn’t it always?) the flesh was tender. A perfect pink-medium had been achieved which is ideal for this cut of meat. I enjoyed eating forkfuls of lamb with a dollop of the beetroot dip with a chunk of bread to sop up some of the oil.
The most impressive thing about all the dishes we ordered was the portion size. Given the restaurant is somewhat “posh” we expected big price tags and tiny servings. However, the food was in abundance. Sadly, we had no room to order a second cocktail or dessert. With so many delicious things left to try on the menu, we will definitely be back.
Overall the service was great. Friendly and efficient service can make or break the dining experience. I was very impressed that we were given a large and quiet table despite only being a 2 pax. The waitress helped make recommendations when we ordered and assistance was given to warm our baby’s milk. My only qualm is that we did not have a sufficient break in-between dishes. I would have liked my cocktail to arrive sooner so I could have enjoyed it like an aperitif – that would have enabled me to order a glass of wine later with the food. Likewise, some time between appetiser and main course may have helped us not to become full so quickly and potentially order dessert.
Our total bill was under $200 and we left the restaurant feeling happy and satisfied. What a gorgeously sumptuous birthday meal at Artichoke! That is definitely a five star rating from me. I am looking forward to my next special occasion there.
161 Middle Road