From the outside, Cheek by Jowl is barely distinguishable from its neighbours, set as it is along a shophouse block of offices, bars, and Korean and Japanese eateries. Push through the black-framed door, angled at 90 degrees to Boon Tat Street, and it’s instantly boho-chic Sydney – exposed plasterwork, a rust-brown banquette that stretches along the length of the narrow dining room to the open kitchen.
Even with some obvious synchrony issues – mainly concerning the withdrawn service, and a drinks list that lacks any non-alcoholic cocktails – there is plenty to admire about the restaurant’s Australian vibe. Its Sri Lankan-born chef, Rishi Naleendra, came up in the kitchens of Melbourne’s Taxi Dining Room and Sydney’s Tetsuya’s, and made his name in Singapore at Oxwell & Co, and Maca.
At the latter, his flashes of imagination and Instagram-worthy plating caught the attention of restaurateur Loh Lik Peng who promptly poached him for Cheek by Jowl, where he now has the perfect stage on which to show off his remarkably intuitive modern Australian menu. His noteworthy creations include earthy salt-baked beetroot, with ribbons of pickled beetroot and raisins, and a shower of puffed wild rice nuzzling a nugget of soft goat’s cheese, and crisp-skinned barramundi topped with foamy prawn bisque and prawn floss. There’s also his latest cured mackerel crusted with the crumbs of roasted mackerel bones, and livened up with pickled onion, daikon and dill oil.
Naleendra’s small desserts menu is dazzling in its inventiveness. His dessert featuring local flavours of laksa leaf ice cream, coconut, pomelo pearls and green chilli reduction is impressive, as is his newest creation, an unexpected combination of plums macerated in Sichuan pepper-infused caramel. The tangy red fruit is served with coconut sorbet and meringue scattered with smoky burnt coconut husk powder.
CHEEK BY JOWL
21 Boon Tat Street, S(069620)