Last Updated: March 6, 2020
For someone who lives at Harbourfront, it’s not often (basically never) that I find myself travelling to Sengkang, which is literally on the other end of Singapore from where I stay. As such, my knowledge of good food hangouts in the Northeast is close to nothing. On the off chance that I’m in the area, I’m always on the lookout for interesting restaurants and cafes.
With how rapidly Sengkang has developed over the years, it’s no surprise that it has become home to a multitude of great eateries, ranging from hawker stalls to aesthetic cafes and restaurants. One such place is Zoey’s Diner, a cosy cafe at Compass One that serves bite-sized burgers, bubble tea, and more.
Zoey’s Diner is located right in the heart of Compass One, surrounded by familiar retail brands like OWNDAYS and Cotton On. The exterior is finished in hues of heather grey, white and black—monochromatic and not very noticeable. If you’re not paying attention, you might just walk past it.
With white ambient lighting, light wood furnishings, and even a bookcase running along one wall, the diner is decorated in muted pastel and brown tones, creating a minimalistic theme that makes me feel like I’ve stepped into a Tumblr post.
It almost seems out of place that such a cute and aesthetic-looking diner would be in the midst of retail stores and fast-food chains. Well, that’s because it is a fast food place. Zoey’s Diner’s slogan is ‘Feel Good Fast Food’, featuring a play on traditional burgers by using bao for their buns. In line with their ‘Feel Good’ theme, they’ve also included a selection of salads and soup into their menu, so you can enjoy a delicious yet healthy meal.
Wanting to try out their dishes for myself, I paid them a visit on a Friday afternoon, which was surprisingly still quite busy at 2pm. I was pleasantly surprised that their dishes are priced in the range of S$5.90 to S$10.90 a la carte, and an additional S$2 for a meal with a side and a drink, comparable to the prices of a regular fast-food chain. The burger buns are also interchangeable between brioche buns and bao.
The first dish that arrived was the Pepper Braised Steak Burger (S$10.90, a la carte), consisting of two brioche buns that hold a slab of Australian Beef Short Rib doused in black pepper sauce, a wild rocket salad and tomato. I decided to get a meal for this baobae, paying a total of S$16.40 for an upgrade to truffle fries (S$1) as the side and an upgraded speciality drink (S$2.50).
One thing I noticed about the burger was that the size of the beef slab was smaller than what was displayed on the menu, but also thicker. Even from a distance, I could smell the fragrant black pepper sauce that coated the short rib.
As I bit into the baobae, I immediately tasted the pepperiness of the sauce, which left a spicy tingling sensation on my tongue. The beef itself was tender and easy to bite into, but not to the point where it was breaking apart. The fresh tomato added a juicy crunch and burst of freshness, accompanied by the classic peppery taste of rocket. However, the black pepper taste might be overwhelming for some, as it slightly overpowered the other flavours. The portion of truffle fries was quite small, but it still had the standard aromatic truffle flavour.
The next dish I tried was Zoey’s Chicken Burger (S$7.90, a la carte), one of their signature baobaes featuring chicken thigh, house spices, lettuce and tomato drizzled with creamy garlic aioli. This burger was significantly thicker than the others, with two generous chunks of chicken thigh.
The chicken was succulent, and the skin was well-marinated and nicely grilled. The charred flavour cut through the creamy garlic aioli that was delicious on its own and added a hint of that garlic taste. This burger was served while I was eating the beef baobae, but I noticed that the brioche buns maintained their shape and light buttery flavour, instead of becoming soggy and wet.
The combined textures of the crunchy vegetables, the tender chicken and the toasted yet soft brioche buns made for a good bite, and this was easily my favourite burger.
The last burger I tried was Shrooms Bun-Mi (S$6.90, a la carte), a spin on the Vietnamese banh mi with vegetarian-friendly ingredients like shiitake mushrooms marinated in hoisin sauce, pickled vegetables, peanuts and a deep-fried onion patty. Bao was used as the burger bun and the taste of it reminded me of the steamed bun used in kong bak pau.
The hoisin sauce used in the shiitake mushrooms helped to emphasise the umami mushroom taste, and gave the burger a savoury taste despite it not having any meat. However, like most steamed buns, they tend to get soggy quite quickly when exposed to any sort of sauce, which was the case for this burger. The onion patty had the texture of a fried fritter and added a crunch to the burger, but it had a strong doughy taste that I wasn’t a fan of.
I wanted to try something else from the menu that wasn’t a burger, so I opted for the Tomato Cream Chicken Pasta (S$7.90, a la carte). This pasta consists of diced chicken leg with spaghetti, coated with tomato cream sauce and topped with aged parmesan cheese and parsley.
The spaghetti was cooked al dente, while the sauce was creamy to combat the tang of the tomato. The chicken was diced into bite-sized chunks and had the same tenderness as chicken thigh, although I felt that the portion of chicken provided was quite small. All in all, the pasta was decent but you may not enjoy this if you dislike creamy dishes.
As an add-on to one of the burgers, I ordered Roasted Corn Soup (S$1.50 for Value Meal, S$3.90, a la carte), which came served in a paper cup. The soup was without any garnishings, and was simply a potent yellow corn colour.
The initial taste that I registered was a charred flavour, followed by the sweetness of the corn and the crunchy corn bits. The soup leaned towards the oily side, but I really liked how the roasted savoury tang complemented the sweet corn.
The drinks we ordered were the Peach Rose Nectar (S$5.20 for Large, a la carte) and the Classic Afternoon Milk Tea (S$4.40 for Large, a la carte). The former bore a strong taste of rose syrup with subtle hints of peach, and aloe vera bits that were satisfying to munch on, while the latter tasted like regular milk tea, with tapioca pearls that were easy to chew.
My final thoughts: I appreciated how Zoey’s Diner had managed to elevate classic fast food by changing up their decorations and providing both vegetarian and steamed bun options for their dishes, as well as salads and pasta. I felt like their menu items were very comprehensive and all-encompassing—I could enjoy a soup, a main with sides, bubble tea and even dessert all in one sitting.
On the other hand, the portions provided here are quite small, especially if you’re a big eater. In order to feel full, you might need to order two burgers, or more sides to accompany your baobae. These portion sizes could also be good if you’re just looking for a snack in the middle of the day, or if you’re a light eater.
Expected Damage: S$9 – S$20 per pax
Our Rating: 4 / 5
1 Sengkang Square, Compass One, #01-01, Singapore 545078
1 Sengkang Square, Compass One, #01-01, Singapore 545078