Last Updated: April 1, 2021
It was only a matter of time I followed up with a second post in our ‘Disagreeable Dishes’ series. The run only managed to kick off with one review, and was abruptly halted due to COVID-19 and the resulting ‘Circuit Breaker’ a year ago. But now, I feel it’s about time that F&B businesses pull their socks up and awake from the slump of crawling profits, to lure and entice diners to patronise their restaurants, cafes, and stalls—after all, how else can Singaporeans travel if not through food? Which brings me to the revealing of Cafe de Muse, my pick of contention for today.
Once again, just like I did for The Big Bird, I perused the world wide web for adequate feedback from the public on what they felt is the worst cafe in Orchard Road. Why a cafe? And why only in Orchard Road? For starters, our travel restrictions have unknowingly led many of us to funnel our money into shopping, and with all that credit card swiping, I’m pretty sure a refuel at a cafe beckons the most amidst the mid-day fatigue.
For a cafe that I’ve briskly walked past many times, I’ve never witnessed any fanfare surrounding it. The moment I hop online and perform a quick Google search, I scroll down to see:
Mentally, I took note that the majority of 227 people can’t possibly be negatively polarising for the sake of bringing a business down. For most, it was the abysmal service that tainted their impressions of Cafe de Muse.
Reviews reflected on Tripadvisor mentioned plenty of disappointment in the slow service, miscommunication with staff, and less-than-acceptable standard of food, with strong advice to curious cafe-seekers to consider other options in the vicinity.
It was admittedly tough to read such demoralising feedback, especially since many businesses—not just limited to F&B—are only just beginning to emerge from the storm that is the pandemic. However, I knew I had to uncover the reality of these experiences, and found myself standing in line for a table at Cafe de Muse on a Saturday afternoon.
I have to iterate: my agenda wasn’t to prove and shame the establishment for its shortcomings but to shine a light on the validity of these claims as well as recommend possible ways they can improve.
Given the underwhelming reviews I’d already read prior to this visit, I’m slightly surprised by the short queue the afternoon of my visit. It only takes 10 minutes before we’re shown our table, but there is a stark absence of pleasantries from the wait staff. Two menus are placed on our tables for our perusal, and she briskly leaves.
We decide to order three dishes—an appetiser and two mains—along with two drinks. I’m informed that the Sous Vide Chicken Roulade (S$24) will take at least 30 minutes because they’re running at full house. I find myself mildly annoyed, but I take a leap of faith and agree to the terms. On the menu, it also says that you may request for steak doneness of medium-rare to well-done, but my dining partner opts to cheekily request for rare (just to push the boundaries a lil’).
Within five minutes, the staff returns with paper placemats and our napkins and cutlery, in which he does a haphazard job of laying out before running off to tend to the next diner. My dining partner and I glance at each other and arranged the setting appropriately while exchanging suggestions that the young staff here are clearly untrained. It would only have taken all of an extra three seconds to pause, set the utensils down properly and gracefully, and walk away.
Our drinks arrive within 10 minutes, while the first dish makes its appearance right on the 35-minute mark. The rare Steak & Eggs (S$25) carries the appearance of a decent dish, and when split open, it reveals a bright red swatch that’s a joy to our eyes. The fuss-free steak is well-seasoned, plump, and tender, and my dining partner expresses no cynicism towards his choice.
Five more minutes pass and the Soy Garlic Korean Fried Chicken (S$15) joins the meal. This version is all boneless, which I’m grateful for, but comparing it to the photo on Cafe de Muse’s Facebook page as well as their menu, I already feel shortchanged. The chicken pieces are arid while the soy garlic drizzle lacks personality. Was there a new sous chef graduate in the kitchen that needs more experience in flavouring?
To make matters worse, the fries are served unsalted with a sad smattering of parmesan that only saddens (me and) this miserable appetiser further. They should take a leaf out of PS.Cafe’s Truffle Fries eleganza book—now that’s truffle, hennny.
We’re so close to hitting 45 minutes on the clock and a grease-stained plate of Sous Vide Chicken Roulade finally appears. Even before I could inspect my main course, I witnessed the staff frantically putting down the plate on the adjoining table before (once again) scurrying off, rather than walk two steps to my seat and place it on the table in front of me.
Call me nitpicky and fussy, but I believe small shifts in service that take only an extra five seconds of one’s time can make all the difference in a diner’s experience. What truly left a miserable impression on me has to be the plating—I mean. Once again, I can’t help but make mental comparisons to its intended styling, and then look back at my plate in dismay. I flatly state, “It looks like someone went dumpster diving in here”.
To summarise this dish, the chicken roulade is commonplace and passable, while the biggest no-nos are everything else on the plate. The vegetables were void of any salt, the potatoes raw as the visceral anger that is simmering right below my threshold of patience, and broccoli puree that would serve as a great substitute for wall putty. Even wall putty deserves better.
I had all intentions of ordering dessert as well, given that I observed so many tables ordering towering bingsu and cakes. However, we’d spent much too long waiting for our food rather than enjoy it, and our Saturday calls for errands to be fulfilled. Perhaps we would’ve had better luck with the sweets here, but, I’ll never know.
The food was tolerable in some parts, but much like the reviews I’d read, the service is indeed in dire need of sprucing. While I understand weekends can leave many inexperienced staff flustered, it’s wise to note that not all diners are patient and service is, ultimately, part of the dining experience. I could’ve easily overlooked the incautious service if the food were up to par, however, with only one of our three orders meeting expectations, I cannot, in good conscience, say that my experience is forgivable.
My advice is for them to slow down when interacting with diners at their table and considerately placed cutlery and plates, which would make a remarkable difference. In the kitchen, more care is needed when it comes to seasoning and plating, and if peak hours render the team unable to meet standards, perhaps a refresh of the menu is necessary. For the location and price, one acknowledges that particular decorum and regulations apply, and I believe it’s only fair both the diner and business meet halfway in that regard. I secretly wanted to prove the poor reviews wrong—I really did. But for now, this is another ‘Disagreeable Dishes’ entry that’s not about to win anyone over.
Expected damage: S$30 – S$50 per pax
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Price: $ $
Our Rating: 2 / 5
Cafe de Muse
350 Orchard Road, Singapore 238868
350 Orchard Road, Singapore 238868