Sporting a swankier look than most of the Korean restaurants along Tanjong Pagar road, the eating joint that goes by the name Dabang by day and Don’t Tell Mama by night sits masked in a compelling coat of black. Upon entering, one would find that this Korean eatery is quite unlike any other with its quirky interior design and spunky atmosphere.
Apart from offering its patrons various unique cocktails and sojuritas, Dabang has a mellower side whereby the bar concocts intriguing non-alcoholic drinks like flavoured smoothies and dessert drinks. Dabang also boasts one of the best hot chocolates in Singapore (or they’ll give a full refund if proven otherwise)!
Dabang, being the milder version of the restaurant, caters mostly to sober office-workers and the more adventurous day-time foodies. The intimate set-up of the place allows friends to gather over a lovely morning coffee or during a much-needed lunch break.
We had a few caffeinated drinks that the common working individual around Tanjong Pagar gets a shot of before the day’s dreads set in. This prepared us for the following feast, which the smiling waiters so promptly delivered.
First off, we had the Twist Potato ($8), a spirally, sweetened stick of goodness. The thin potato wedges were fried till they turned a nice golden brown, were crispy and savoury with a touch of sugar.
The second appetizer we had was the Grilled Corn ($12). For something as innocuous-sounding as corn, this dish was dense with so many flavours – buttery, peppery and cheesy. We dabbed the corn down with some lime juice and it gave the cheesy corn a pleasant hint of zest. The corn cob itself was sweet and juicy, and with the added seasoning, the Grilled Corn really was sublime.
Lastly, before the mains made their way to our table, we were served the Nacho Cheese Omelette ( $16). This potato-based omelette was a very messy dish what with the seemingly clumsy amassing of nacho bits, vegetable bits and various sauces.
Despite the apparent disorganisation, I was pleasantly surprised with how all the textures came together nicely with the crunchy nacho flakes, crispy capsicum chunks and fluffy omelette. While this may not have been my most adored dish, I still appreciate the spunky character and taste of it.
(Green) Green Dream in Heaven ($6): Layered with generous servings of chia seeds, Dabang’s smoothies are both healthy and delicious – a hard combination to achieve. Blended with avocado, green apple and lime, the Green Dream in Heaven was thick with more delicate flavours but laced with milk and honey, the smoothie was still nicely sweetened.
(Yellow) Island Tango ($6): The Island Tango, unlike the former, was made up of a more sprightly combination of flavours – Mango, Pineapple and Orange. I preferred this sunny smoothie to the Green Dream, possibly out of a personal bias against healthy greens, but also because the Island Tango was much sweeter and more dynamic.
The last smoothie we tried was the Berry Berry Hearty Banana ($6). Apart from its rather amusing name, I really enjoyed this smoothie for the fact that it tasted much like a delightful helping of berry yogurt, imbued with layers of chia seeds. The drink was smooth, sweet and very lovely.
The first main dish we tried was the Kimchi Panini ($12). This interesting mix of Korea meets West worked unusually well. Sandwiched between two toasty Panini breads, the Sauteed kimchi and cheese blend accompanied by the helping of Rucola salad was rather glorious and impeccably savoury. It could be that the appreciation for Kimchi is an acquired one but those who fear the Kimchi for its piquancy should not fret as the spice level is rather mild.
The next main we had was the Korean BBQ Burger (Beef) ($15) and it was magnificent. The beef patty was so amazingly juicy and tender. Coupled with the egg, sauces and the typical lettuce and tomato, this messy burger really was heavenly. Definitely one of my favourites.
This fancy-looking dish was very impressively presented. According to the owner, many of the dishes served at Dabang are inspired by food trends in Korea and this seasonal-based gem dubbed O’tteok ($35) is no different. Dabang’s O’tteok is essentially squid rice cake slathered in a popular sauce in Korea.
The allure of this dish’s presentation was not the only thing that captivated me. I also enjoyed how the soft rice cakes basted in sweet (and only slightly spicy) chili sauce went very nicely with the squid and Korean fish cake. Although the dish left a strong seafood after-taste, I was too taken by the overall taste of the dish to be overly bothered by it.
We tried another special version of Dabang’s rice cakes – Black Squid Ink Rice cake ($12) – which was very thrilling simply because I’ve not seen any other Korean food-place try innovating with traditional Korean dishes. This rich dish was rather cheesy and had a slight malty essence to it. Besides being consumed for its unique taste, we were told many indulge in this Squid Ink dish for its health benefits whose specifics are still unbeknownst to me.
After our extremely hearty meal, we were served Ice Cube Drinks ($9) to settle us in for the last course. The display of the drinks was rather bizarre, with separate jars of flavoured ice cubes and milk being served on a platter with a modest block of Korean rice cracker.
Upon pouring the lukewarm milk into the jar of ice cubes, the flavoured chunks will begin melting to form a sweet, creamy drink. The Ice Cubes Mocha we had was syrupy but not cloyingly sweet, even leaving a slightly bitter after-taste the way most typical Mocha drinks do.
The Matcha Ice Cubes Milk Tea we tried was sweeter than the Mocha and had a nice hint of matcha which was mostly overpowered by the velvety milk. I particularly enjoyed this Matcha Milk Tea for it was light, frothy and flavourful – the way I like my drinks.
The final dish we had was the French Toast ($12) which was beautifully decked out in syrupy berries and nicely dusted down with sweetened powder. The fresh berries nicely balanced out the drenched-in-maple-syrup toast with a cool zesty flavour.
Claimed to be the best Hot Chocolate ($1) in Singapore, I was not disappointed to say the least. I’m not entirely sure they serve the best hot chocolate on our island, considering the fact that there are many chocolate connoisseurs around but this little cup of rich, velvety hot chocolate was undeniably tasty.
It helps that they do not serve an excessive amount of hot chocolate in one serving as the drink is heavy and will make you feel dizzy on cocoa past a certain point.
All in all, I had a pleasant dining experience at Dabang and would highly recommend anyone passing by Tanjong Pagar or working nearby to come by the place for a meal or two. They have a lovely collection of drinks if you are simply looking for a chill drink before or after work and for those vying for something more robust, get yourself one of their splendid dishes!
Expected damage: $30 per pax