Neon Pigeon: Autumn Migration

If you asked me to name two things the Singapore dining-scape (in specific the Keong Saik precinct) already has plenty of, I'd reply "modern-Asian cuisine and cocktail bars." So did I need to review another place that thrived on selling a combination of these two concepts to the unsuspecting audience, mostly expats, sorry. Theoretically, no. Especially where full-house bookings and raucous crowds are concerned on a daily basis. But gastronomically, where the autumn menu is headed, yes.

Hear me out.

Popular for its izakaya styled sharing plates and innovative Japanese inspired cocktails, Neon Pigeon has always had a special place in my heart, due to the world class service and amicable, all-smiles crew that guard the bar with ferocious passion. Food wise though, it was my virgin attempt, this discounting the few intoxicated misadventures I've had with the oysters, tartare and hummus (to die for!). With a change of season, the joint blasts out 10 new items, each showcasing a modern approach put together by the wild minds of Chef de Cuisine Dennis Smit and Head Chef Justin Hammond. 

In typical Neon Pigeon fashion, dinner begins with certain theatrics. We skip the sake lay backs in favour of a the tomahawk steak presentation at the table before it goes through an arduous process of cooking.  One glance and you're in cave-man mode, the anticipation garnering a severe thirst which you proceed to curb with an order of the Karashi Sour ($18) and Espresso Match ($21); the former whets the appetite perfectly. Hendricks gin mingles pleasantly with Karashi agave, pickled red cabbage, ginger in the frothy fizz. The Espresso Match heals the Monday battle scars,  the heady, Appleton rum based drink is paired with green matcha espresso, cazcabel coffee and fernet branca for that minty dead lift.

Small bite choices are aplenty at Neon Pigeon and you'll want to start with the Seabream Sashimi ($18 for small). Nice slender cuts of sea bream is first cured in tamari shoyu which implements a firmer texture on the fish and a savoury flavour. Yuzu Koshu oil is brushed on for a nice strike of heat. The final adornment of crisp green apple and tempura seaweed crunchify the amalgamation.  This dish is a satisfying encapsulation of what I dream weekday after-work dinners with the boyfriend should be like.

Given it's Japanese inspiration, it would be a mammoth task to skip the Tsukune Meatballs ($30 for Large), the chicken mounds beg for texture, cartilage maybe? However beneath the succulent packages lay a carpet of hidden treasures - the pickled carrots, coveted for a fact of its small serving, speckled with peanut tare and aomoroi seaweed; the conflicting flavours enhanced by it's wonderfully sour and tangy nature.

Oddly enough, the most uninspiring looking dish also turns out to be the most crazily sought after. The Bamboo Shoot Tempura ($11 for small) had barely enough time to get acquainted with the table before it got yanked in all directions by the ravenous group. Putting the stinky connotation of the ramen versions to rest, these are first cooked in kombu dashi and then breaded in fresh bread crumbs and cereal coating before being deep fried. Heaped with black garlic mayonnaise, katsuobushi flakes and green onions, the mess was a textbook of textures and assertive umami flavours that conveyed so much pleasures that are hard to conceive intially. Remember to never judge a book by its cover!

Don't be fooled by the sound of the Roasted Tiger Prawns ($18 for small) dish, it's a MVP mostly for its gargantuan serving of plump roasted prawns over tangles of cold buckwheat soba noodles steeped in a succinctly sweet dashi broth. Grated daikon and roasted buckwheat provide texture to the seemingly spring-like dish.

We crunched through Charcoal Grilled Asparagus ($16 for small), a healthy mixture of asparagus and broccolini drenched in black sesame sauce, a tangy ponzu, confetti showers of spring onions, sesame seeds and the occasional rays of sunshine from yuzu peel. At this point, you begin to toy with the idea of adhering to a vegetarian diet. If joints like Neon Pigeon could do the humble greens so much justice, eating your greens 24/7 shouldn't be that hard.

That is till the Crispy Pork Belly ($20 for small) makes an appearance at the table. Barely making an indentation in the honey glazed pork, the tomahawk steals the limelight. SO MUCH for entertaining vegetarian diet thoughts. I forked my way through both proteins with the dignity of a beggar, juggling between the unctuous pork belly seared on one edge and made piquant with a lemon sesame dressing and slices of the tomahawk steak, best eaten smeared with salty miso butter. It's a parade of Neon Pigeon's greatest hits, all in one theatrical act, and boy was I smitten.

Note that the Tomahawk steak ($25++/100g) is good for 3-4 people to share and is accompanied by too much miso butter, a shogun salad guarded by a breaded and fried soft egg and baguette.

Crispy Pork Belly

You'd be remiss not to pair your Izakaya experience with cocktails from Symphony Loo's kooky, innovative list. My favourite remains the Teared Negroni ($20), an Asian spin on the regular sans the presence of gin. Instead rosemary infused sake and umeshu rises to the occasion, it is paired with luxardo apricot, barbadillo sherry and bitters. This incarnate standing up to the smokiness of the meat dishes that conclude the meal.

I'm happy to report that Neon Pigeon's new menu has not only knocked my socks off on first trial but overall, it brings as much substance as style to the bustling food enclave of Keong Saik. Sure, the establishment may be filled with mini-dress strapping Caucasian women with voices building to a crescendo fuelled by cocktails, and the space gets just a little too claustrophobic at times. But truth be told, it's new menu, world-class service and eye-candy staff guarantee you a damm special - albeit pricey - experience.

Well worth it.

Neon Pigeon
1A Keong Saik Road
t: 6222 3623

Operating Hours:
Mon - Sat: 6pm - 12am
Sun: Closed

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