I’ve only heard about Sultan Gate Restaurant and its loosely associated label as a halal fine dining establishment, but I had no fascination in it until my Editor-in-Chief’s curiosity was sufficiently aroused. We had a goal; to try their three-course Exclusive Lunch Set, which comes at an economical S$25+ per diner.
The use of the term ‘exclusive’ here beckons a double-take, and I’m instantly wondering if they’ve made a mistake (instead of using ‘executive’) or it’s an intentional sassy prod at set lunches. Regardless, I proceed to make—what I thought was a wise decision—a reservation for a Friday lunch, assuming that it would be heavily patronised.
I arrived at Sultan Gate in the midst of a heavy shower and an empty dining room greeted me, save for my Editor-in-Chief who’s almost always ceremonially punctual. The Christmas tunes mingling in the air, in an attempt to fill the aural void, unfortunately, did little to add warmth to our meal.
We managed to sample the entire lunch menu as each course offered only two options. We also ordered an additional Seafood Paella Picante Pizza (S$26)—both for fear of not being fed enough and to get a taste of at least one a la carte, non-‘exclusive lunch’ item.
What I tried
Between the Soupe aux Champignons sauvages (Wild Mushroom Soup) and Soupe a l’oignon Francaise (French Onion Soup), I couldn’t decide which was less disappointing. The former was barely viscous, bordering on runny, while the latter was on the brink of tasting like syrup. I’m sure the saccharine was largely due to the rendered onions’ doing, but where was the blanket of muddled toasted cheese to keep things orderly? There was a small wedge of cheese served on the side, but surely that was no replacement for the original iteration.
The exclusivity of this set lunch had started to diminish almost instantly.
My dining partner decided to partner up with the Haddock et frites (with garden greens, skin-on-chips and aioli), while I braved sitting through their Poulet Pommery au miel et moutarde (Honey pommery mustard chicken), hoping very much that a faint sign of redemption was on the horizon.
In between cautious nibbles, we both exchanged opinions about the phantom responsibility of set lunches; it simply cannot be a slashed portion of a la carte items because patrons today are impeccably learned about the worth of a dollar and how best to satisfy their hunger.
Sadly, this was very much the case as we discovered the Haddock et frites was a straightforward reduced serving of the full main and worse, the brittle batter broke open to reveal paltry, dry fish. My chicken main was only marginally better by fondly and dearly reminding me of BBQ-ed chicken wings one can find in hawker centres. But I didn’t come to Sultan Gate Restaurant to be served that, did I?
Noticing my abandoned vegetables, my dining partner reached over and forked an asparagus head from my plate.
“It’s just blanched—no salt, nothing.”
“I know, that’s why I left it.”
It was difficult to hide the dismay on our faces, especially when we still were the only diners throughout our meal that afternoon. I shared that I felt utterly foolish for making a reservation, and it was getting harder to mask the now-irrepressible offence. As I’m struggling to find the most polite method of delivery here, a sense of guilt washes over as I move on to detail the result of their Seafood Paella Picante Pizza.
Nothing about it was remotely comparable to paella, and most loathsome was the dough, which I felt was frozen and ready-made; I’ve had Sunshine frozen pizzas that tasted like this, though absent confirmation, is something I can’t say with absolute certainty. Thar aside, the cheese overpowered the pie, with little room for any other ingredient to breathe let alone exist.
I’m not dictating that every place that sells pizza must make fresh dough, but a commitment to quality and more importantly, commitment to patrons’ expectations is crucial. And aspect made even more pertinent now as consumers practice measured discretionary spending, given the pandemic and its effects on the economy.
A small part of me prayed and hoped that dessert—Creme Caramel and Pudding au Pain et au beurre (Bread and butter pudding)—would salvage the appalling lunch, but there was little respite from the relentless dissatisfaction.
I don’t want to terrorise your impression of Sultan Gate even further, so in summary, I will say this: Creme Caramel, as sugary as it’s intended to be, still requires complex nuances. And Pudding au Pain et au beurre isn’t really living its authentic self without a wholesome vanilla bean sauce—at the very least.
I’ve received enough flak from previous cynical reviews to know that I might be setting myself up for yet another barrage of virtual pitchforks. However, let it be known that writing about an F&B business that hasn’t quite gotten their mojo together isn’t something I take simple pleasure in.
The arguable discussion of set lunches went on even as we both left Sultan Gate, stimulating me to state a valid case for all restaurants to realise that set lunches shouldn’t be a forgotten child. It should be treated with equal care and respect as any other menu item, even if one’s lunch service lasts only two or three hours.
It is, after all, a mid-day meal for so many who look forward to a delicious reprieve from the drone of work and meetings, so allow your guests to feel content with coughing up extra cash for a meal that’s otherwise passed off as afternoon sustenance. If Sultan Gate had, instead, created a set menu that is unique only to lunch while still balancing concepts of profit and loss, perhaps the establishment would have been less empty than it was the day I visited.
While I’ve done my damage of speaking honestly and fairly of Sultan Gate, the best advice I can impart is to play on their strengths. Perhaps their forte isn’t European cuisine, or perhaps it’s not what the people (for that area) want.
It’s high time that they shake the business awake from the torpid lull that’s clearly plaguing them and work on flexing culinary prowess in food that will bring them more accolades than an empty restaurant at lunch would.
Expected Damage: S$25+ for Exclusive Set Lunch
Price: $ $
Our Rating: 1 / 5
Sultan Gate Restaurant
29 Sultan Gate, Singapore 198477
Sultan Gate Restaurant
29 Sultan Gate, Singapore 198477