Artichoke: Going Strong Nine Years On
In Singapore’s fickle restaurant scene, staying the course speaks volumes of an eatery’s calibre. Nine years on, a meal at Artichoke remains a solid, reliable experience – a reassuring affirmation of how quality continues to have a place in our dining circuit amidst a growing obsession over transient fads and Insta-worthy food.
We paid a visit to Artichoke for a well-earned, post-circuit-breaker meal. While the décor has undergone some slight facelifts since the restaurant’s earlier days, its vibe – wrought by surrounding greenery and an eclectic mishmash of artwork and ornamental memorabilia – retains a sense of homeliness and familiarity. The same goes for the food: a couple of new additions have found its way into the lineup, some popular favourites remain, but it’s clear how the menu stays true to its Middle Eastern roots – a culinary heritage that delivers unflinchingly in terms of flavour, soul, and heart.
No true blue Middle Eastern feast is complete without some hummus – a starter dish that Chef Bjorn Shen periodically reinvents. If you see hummus as nothing more than a complementary dip, you’ll be proven wrong by Artichoke’s latest rendition of this Middle Eastern staple. This season’s spin comes topped with charred abalone mushrooms seasoned in Baharat – a traditional mix of seven spices common in the Arab world. The result is a powerful punch of deep, earthy flavours that passes the dish off as a main in and of itself.
Less traditional, but by no means less impressive, was our second starter of crab on house-baked brioche. This is Artichoke’s take on a western crab toast, but with a Middle Eastern twist to it. A mix of Greek yoghurt and mayonnaise is slathered through generous chunks of crab meat, which then gets heaped onto a sweet, buttery brioche bun. And as though such richness isn’t enough to make for a decadent treat, the open-faced crab toasts are topped with shards of deep-fried chicken skin, which gives a welcomed textural contrast to the combined lusciousness of the crab paste and the brioche.
The line between starters and mains are often blurred at Artichoke, given how all of its dishes pack a pow-wow of flavours, and that portions are dished out in a manner that encourages sharing. Because the starters kicked us off on a high note, our expectations were pegged way up when we finally moved on to the mains. We opted for the Lamb Ali Nazik – a traditional kebab of grilled lamb atop eggplant mash. Artichoke’s take on this Turkish classic retains much of the dish’s original charcoaled, smoky tones. However, instead of a pure yoghurt and butter topping, Chef Bjorn finishes the dish off with a dollop of yoghurt and chilli-infused butter, which brings a note of heat and zing to balance off the heaviness of the lamb and eggplant.
What really stole the show that evening was our second main of grilled prawns tossed in a wicked harissa of rocket, mint, spring onion, and green chilli. The prawns are caramelised to the point that their sweetness seeps deep into the surrounding jam – a sort of flavor heaven for seafood lovers. And that harissa jam – one word – “damn!”. Think of it as a sambal packing a complex wallop of elements – singularly unidentifiable – but all dancing happily on your taste buds along to a cacophony of flavours. Our little tip: save a bit of the Turkish bread from the starters (or order a fresh portion) to lap up all the harissa with even after you’re done with the prawns.
Artichoke fares exceedingly well with its savouries, but its sweet offerings are no pushovers either. If you only have space for one dessert (we were stuffed at the end of mains), go for the Baklava Cheesecake – a nod to the time-honoured baklava (a Middle Eastern dessert made of filo pastry) in the form of a modern cheesecake. While you’ll find most of a baklava’s traditional elements present – pistachios, pastry bits, rose petals, and honey – most of the gratification derived from this clever marriage of new and old comes from its generous cream cheese filling and its subtle but bright hints of citrus.
If you’re needing some wholesome, unpretentious food that overlooks gimmicks in favour of flavour, we say head on down to Artichoke. But do it on an empty stomach.
161 Middle Rd, Singapore 188978
+65 6336 6949