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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Chi-chi ambiance at Chopsuey Cafe

The cafe offers a gourmet take on Anglicised Asian fare found in Western countries like the US, UK and Australia.
The Straits Times - February 13, 2013
By: Debbie Yong
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Chi-chi ambiance at Chopsuey Cafe

Chopsuey Cafe

Add: #01-23 Blk 10, Dempsey Road
Tel: 9224 6611
Brunch: 9.30am-6.30pm (Sat-Sun); Dinner: 6.30pm-midnight (Thu-Sun), 6.30pm-2am (Fri-Sat)

Given its classy black and white interiors and the crowd of chi-chi locals and expatriates who fill its tables, you might mistake Chopsuey Cafe for yet another one of the PS Cafe group's casual-chic Western cafes. But then the little details in the 120-seater restaurant hint at something else: there are chopsticks in each place setting, and accents of dark red on its dining chairs and menus.

The month-old eatery on Dempsey Hill is in fact the group's very first foray into Chinese cuisine. It's not the sexiest restaurant genre one can venture into, but then again, neither were they planning to stick with the run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant template. Instead, the group hopes to fill a niche by offering a gourmet take on Anglicised Asian fare found in Western countries like the US, UK and Australia.

"We may mock it, but things like prawn fritters and sweet-and-sour pork are still comfort food for many people," says the chain's business development manager, Edward Lee. Both Mr Lee and PS Cafe's three partners - Philip Chin, Peter Teo and Richard Chamberlain - are either expatriates or have lived overseas, and have fond memories of dishes but have found them lacking on their return to Asia, he says.

"We're not re-inventing the wheel, this is not fusion food. These dishes already exist in the West," says Mr Lee. "We're taking it back to Asia and cooking with better cuts of meat, less oil and no MSG." The rusty nails ($24), for instance, is a spiffed up take on the crispy orange beef ubiquitous to Chinese take-out menus in the US, except Chopsuey Cafe's version features grain-fed short rib strips glazed with a zesty orange sauce. The Chopsuey chopsuey ($16) meanwhile is a lightly sauteed vegetable medley upgraded with brussels sprouts and fragant basil leaves.

Save room for dessert - perhaps the most "Westernised" things on the menu - as the creme caramel tart ($15) is a curious combination of creme brulee in a tart shell. The Vietnamese coffee pudding ($14) is a welcome meeting of cultures: the coffee jelly's slight bitterness is perfectly offset by the condensed milk-drenched oreo cookie bed it wobbles on top of. "We're very much still a cafe at heart, with all your Western embellishments like a wine list and a cocktail list," says Mr Lee. Cocktails straddle the East-West border too, with several concoctions working in local chilli and szechuan pepper. The opium ($23) is a Chambord-laced Laphroaig whisky with a faint floral fragrance that even the women would love. "It's like fashion," observes PS Cafe founder-designer Peter Teo.

"The Japanese adapt trends from the West, synergise it, and then it is emulated and brought back to British or American fashion." Chopsuey Cafe is currently toeing a very thin line between being innovative and gimmicky, but after all, "They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom," - as Confucius once so sagely said.

debyong@sph.com.sg

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