There is no frenzy like hordes that gather at the opening of a new cafe. Neptune has all the works. It is situated in the very trendy streets of Katong, where açaí, cold brew, and sourdough abound. The little LA of Singapore, if you will. To add to that, the cafe was decked out in a calming sage green that is very in vogue with soft glowing orbs to make your pan for Instagram all the better.
Even as much as I try to resist, I see a snaking queue and my Singaporean sensibilities are inevitably piqued. If you must know, Neptune exists in the same orbit as Apollo Coffee Bar, Lunar Coffee Brewers, and the likes of Atlas Coffeehouse. They do seem to have the ‘cafe thing’ down.
There I was on a Tuesday evening, basking in those sage green tiles that reminded a little too much of the fire king jadeite cups in Wong Kar Wai’s masterpiece, ‘In The Mood For Love’. Perhaps, I was swooning over the decor and aesthetic of the place a little too much. After all, the main star of any cafe should be the food, enough daydreaming; it’s time to dive in.
What I tried
As with any cafe, it’s always a hodge-podge of dishes that caters to the mercurial tastebuds of the Singaporean diner. Even so, there are always a few reliable dishes like the Burrata (S$14.90) that comes with hefty sourdough slices, blistered cherry tomatoes, and pickled onions. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’ll do.
Things start to take a more exciting turn when presented with Meatballs (S$15.90) (as they are so-called). Rendang-flavoured beef balls that are showered with breadcrumbs come on skewers and accompanied by sour cream. Rendang is a little out of the left field for a menu that has a heavy Japanese leaning, but I’ll bite—and I did. Tender, yes, but a little heavy-handed on the salt, which deters you from having a second piece.
What is an afternoon at a cafe without some sort of pasta? There is the Shrimp Scampi (S$21.90), where ribbons of tagliatelle come dressed in garlic butter shrimp sauce with a crispy shallot panko sauce. It’s an obvious choice for pasta, where, like a well-worn rom-com, I know exactly when the guy realises his best ‘girlfriend’ was ‘The One’ all along.
Perhaps, I won’t be able to guess the ending with the Harissa Chorizo Porta (S$24.90). With a twirl of the heady mixture of harissa cream-laden pasta, I dove headfirst into this plate of pasta. While I can appreciate the unorthodox use of the spicy harissa paste, it’s a little simple on the palate with roaring notes of spice, cream, and nothing else. Not the ending I was expecting but one that left me disappointed all the same.
Elsewhere, the Seafood Somen (S$22.90) was perhaps one of the more focused dishes of the night. Generous squares of salmon that have been torched ever-so-slightly with plump seared scallops with generous smatterings of fried onion sit atop somen coated with scallion oil.
It’s a dish that knows what works and delivers them well. The salmon is tender, and the scallops are done just right. It is one of those dependable dishes that you know won’t let you down, and sometimes that’s all we need.
After a carb-heavy selection, the Patty Meltz (S$21.90) at Neptune seemed apropos. It arrived looking less than impressive, a thin slice of olive focaccia on top of a beef patty with caramelised onions and cheddar cheese. Again, it’s not pushing the envelope in terms of a sandwich, but those caramelised onions do give this one a little bit of an edge. It would most certainly do in the middle of those Saturday afternoons when one is pressed for choice.
Desserts are undoubtedly my favourite part of the meal; ask anyone, and they will tell you the same. Between the Sticky Date Pudding (S$14.90) and Yuzu Chocolate Tart (S$14.90), I would urge you to go for the Sticky Date Pudding.
It’s a warm, pillowy square that’s replete with deep caramelly notes swimming in a gooey toffee sauce and sprinkled liberally with chopped walnuts. Plus, a scoop of vanilla ice cream makes it truly the standout from Neptune. Of course, I’ve had sticky date pudding before, and by virtue of the dessert, it’s hard to go wrong. Still, it was one of the plates that were wiped clean that evening.
In the film ‘In The Mood For Love’, some of my favourite sequences are when the main characters are buying wanton noodles. It’s a seemingly uninteresting act, but, with Wong Kar Wai’s exquisite cinematography, even these banal and unremarkable events are heavily imbued with meaning and made interesting—beautiful even.
This is to say that even with how ubiquitous cafes are and how we are familiar with their food, there is still space to experiment and breathe new life into tried-and-tested formulas. There is nothing wrong with the food at Neptune. In fact, it’s perfectly fine.
Only that it’s safe and predictable like Taylor Swift sings, “I think I’ve seen this film before”. With the calibre of their sister restaurants, I do think Neptune, given their space and location, can do so much more and I shall be patiently waiting.
Expected damage: S$14.90 – S$24.90 per dish
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Price: $ $
Our Rating: 3 / 5
237 East Coast Road , Singapore 428930
237 East Coast Road , Singapore 428930