Telok Ayer is in an area that is teeming with plenty of bars and restaurants for one’s pickings. So much so that, it can be a challenge to find something that isn’t run-of-the-mill. But dig a lil’ deeper into the alleyways, and you’ll discover this lair tucked away from the main street that offers breakfast, coffee-to-go, happy hour and most importantly, stellar food.
When I entered Gemmills, I found myself in a cooling, dim and cosy sanctuary away from the afternoon’s heat wave. The place isn’t much bigger than most people’s living room, but therein lies its charm. Don’t be fooled by its simple fixture as its menu speaks volumes of what Gemmills truly represents.
I was highly recommended its Pear and Vanilla Ice Tea ($6). This homemade juice is bred and bottled in the kitchen, complete with using fresh fruit (so no cordials here). The result is a rejuvenating thirst quencher that’s naturally sweet and slightly fizzy. I also had a serving of the Focaccia & Ricotta ($5) that is 100% made from scratch. Yes, even the ricotta is made in-house, from milk, cream and lemon juice, and only lightly seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil.
To start the meal, I had the Chicken, Cauliflower & Quinoa Salad ($16), which might sound boring to those with an aversion to salads, but my palate was blown away by how tantalising this dish is! The quinoa and buckwheat are blanched, followed by a zesting of lemon, which lifts the entire dish.
The tender chicken, on its own, is bursting with flavours of cumin, coriander and sumac. The addition of fresh pomegranate, Inka-roasted (ovens that use charcoal) cauliflowers, fresh mint, green chillies and Greek yoghurt makes this starter ooze of Mediterranean vibes.
I moved on to the Zucchini, Black Olive & Mozzarella ($12) pizzette that I can almost guarantee you would’ve never tried elsewhere! The flatbread (also homemade) is grilled in an Inka oven and smothered with fresh tomatoes that are marinated in basil and salt for two days, before being strained.
To finish, zucchini slices and mozzarella cheese are sprinkled with chopped dehydrated black olives and chopped basil to create an unexpectedly rich, salty, and umami vegetarian option. I have never loved a meatless dish this much before.
For the next main, meat lovers are sure to want to have it all to themselves, much like I did when it arrived at the table, it looked all cheesy and tantalising. The Lamb Lasagna ($22) uses lamb shoulder that is braised in red wine and tomatoes overnight before being shredded.
The cherry on top is their use of not one, but a multitude of gorgonzola, manchego and other cheeses. Sure, it may burn a small hole in your pocket, but let’s call it an investment in fulfilling your must-eat list. The lamb is aromatic without being overpowering, and I could even detect the acidity from the tomatoes, which helps balance all the heaviness from the rest of the dish. If you have difficulty deciding on one dish at Gemmills, pick this and there will be no regrets.
Speaking of meat, another one I couldn’t keep my eyes off is the Rigatoni & Beef Ragu ($18). The portion for this is pretty immense, so be prepared to share or gladly be selfish and polish this off solo (no judgements here). This dish is made with eight-hour simmered beef that swims in a stock made with red wine, thyme, rosemary, peeled tomatoes, onions, garlic and celery. To add contrasting textures, homemade (yes, again!) sourdough croutons make this dish effortlessly easy to put away.
No meal is complete without a sweet treat, and Gemmills is there to meet your sugar cravings with the Pecan Pie & Whipped Lemon Cream ($9) and Orange Cake & Yoghurt ($9). I was recommended to try the orange cake first as the pecan pie might prove to overpower the delicate flavours.
One bite of the orange cake and I was instantly hit with nostalgic feels of enjoying a dessert recipe that had been passed down from generations and made with immense love. The yoghurt gave an edge of fattiness that breaks down the citrus notes of the moist cake. My favourite part of the cake was no doubt the crusty edges that were slightly smoky and crisp.
The highly-anticipated finish to an overly-indulgent afternoon was met with an extremely satisfying pecan pie that is flaky and light, unlike what you’d expect from a typical pie crust. The lemon cream was light and complemented the crunchy pecans splendidly.
Needless to say, Gemmills is a rarity when it comes a one-stop shop that does everything it serves so exceptionally well. Most establishments hinge their popularity on particular menu options, and perhaps even an uncommon concept. As for Gemmills, it’s about honest, homemade recipes that’ll make you want to return constantly for a comforting meal and a reprieve from the rat race.
Expected damage: $9 – $22