[SG] The Basement Cafe | dedication and passion whipped up in the basement of SMU

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Our impression of cafés has always been about brunch, coffee and pastries. With the ambience often overshadowing the importance of good food, we’re usually sceptical about recommending cafés.

We’ve visited The Basement sometime back when it first started out, and now back again to try out their newly launched menu. Helmed by their new Chef, Yi Yi, who’d graduated from Le Cordon Bleu  Culinary Institute in London and gained experience at several Michelin-starred restaurants, it was indeed our honour to be able to taste the finely crafted cuisine he’d presented.

Bound by Chef Yi Yi's priorities that lie in taste, texture then followed by presentation, we thought these dishes had been a clear exemplification of his guiding philosophy. Each dish had a well complemented combination and varying textures to break the monotony and each marked the hard work put into its preparation, cooking then plating. 

Sweet Corn and Coconut Soup with Black Truffle Oil ($5)

First for a starter, we were advised to take it just like a shot. We loved how it was presented in small glasses to show the different layer. Topped with coconut foam, there was a strong coconut taste with every mouthful, though we thought it lacked the punch of the black truffle oil. Lightly sweet with a coconut fragrance, it was smooth and mild to whet your appetite, a combination that went surprisingly well together.

Verdict: 8.0/10

 Sundried Tomato and Kalamata Olive Focaccia ($2.50)

Served with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dips, it's freshly baked each day with limited quantities. I personally think it was good on its own - crisp on the outside, while remaining soft and fluffy on the inside, with a subtle aroma to accentuate the traditional taste. This was the epitome of simple food joy and while it looked just like any other ordinary loaf, it entailed hard work and dedication to preparation work. Taking pride in the quality of food, this was always served warm to customers. 

Verdict: 9.0/10
Eggs Benedict Ibérico ($14)

This first main was an indication of the high quality of ingredients they pursue, using Ibérico ham to go with those perfectly poached eggs. A prized (and pricey) grade of ham, it’s hardly seen in the pairing of eggs ben.  We loved how it gave a better texture and richer taste, to complement the lighter tasting eggs.
The hollandaise sauce was one that took a backseat in this, allowing the star of the dish to shine. We would have preferred more sauce to go, though the overall dish was certainly well-executed with slightly crisp surface of the traditional muffins for base that we love! CY has never been a fan of eggs ben, but this managed to win him over! ;)
Note: The usual portion consists of 2 poached eggs, homemade potato salad and mesclun salad.  

Verdict: 9.0/10

Thai Green Curry Risotto with Grilled Mackerel ($13)

This is our personal favourite out of all that we’ve tried! Taking an Asian twist to the otherwise boring risotto, it’s bound to excite your tastebuds with the green curry that’s so subtle in the first mouthful yet grows onto you! Complemented with the savouriness of the mackerel, the sourness of tomato and the fragrance of coconut foam, I loved the explosion of flavours in a mouthful, with well thought-out combination that managed to impress! Must-try for the spicy-lovers and if you’re feeling adventurous enough to explore!

Verdict: 9.0/10

Sous-vide Pork Cheek Ragù ($14)

I’m a fan of all things potato so I’d naturally attack the mash first. A personal preference, I liked how it wasn’t entirely smooth, tasting the gritty bits amidst the creamy buttery mash. The pork cheeks though soft to the touch, I felt that it lacked a bit of that fats to make it more tender and smooth. 

The pork cheek was cooked by the sous-vide method. For those not familiar with this cooking technique, essentially, the food is sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for longer than usual cooking times which cooks the food evenly without depleting the juiciness of the protein. 

This was cooked at 80 degrees for an extensive 12 hours before being served! The accompanying red wine sauce was cooked with an exclusive chef's special pork stock, then reduced to allow the essence and flavours to come across strongly which would suit the palate for those who desire bold flavours.

Verdict: 7.5/10

 Crème Brulee (Earl Grey Lavender/ Pearl of the Orient/ Hanami)

Off the menu, we were glad to have a taste of this to complete our sweet tooth cravings that kicked in after every meal! Flavours of tea infused into the otherwise plain crème brulee, it added an element of anticipation and we were surprised how easily these flavours had blended in. Torched right upon serving for that caramelised crust on top, the sharp contrast of textures with the aroma of tea flavours were enough to whet our appetite (for the second stomach).

Tea lovers would need no further introduction of the flavours, and my favourite out of the trio would be Pearl of the Orient. It didn’t come forth as strong as the earl grey lavender, and I liked how the subtle refreshing taste slowly grew on. Light bodied, the soft and slight fragrance went well with the smooth crème brulee.

Verdict: 8.0/10

Cinnamon Roll ($3)

Baked by one of the owners, this is another popular item on the menu. Don’t let the seemingly thick layer of icing turn you away, just as I was expecting an overly sweet rendition, I was surprised that it struck a fine balance between that and the cinnamon taste. I would have personally preferred the cinnamon taste to be stronger, and the bread to be slightly moister, but still a decent one!

Verdict: 7.5/10

A good cup of coffee makes the night go right and how could we resist when we hear of how one of their owners, Joanne, had actually picked up her barista skills on her own!

Cappuccino ($4)

On the recommended list, this was done well to bring out the flavour of the coffee beans balanced with the right amount of milk, topped with a bonus latte art! I would have personally preferred a more robust flavour for that caffeine kick, though this was just right for a fix just before bedtime :) 

Verdict: 7.5/10

An unassuming café hidden in the school grounds, we were impressed with each individual's passion and their pursuit for excellence. The new menu had certainly been a well thought through combination of items and the resistance of taking any shortcuts in the preparation of each dish had been admirable. For instance, they actually prepare 4 different stocks in-house every day instead of using stock cubes!  
In a laidback café setting, juxtaposed with the people working tirelessly behind the scenes to deliver the best quality possible, we were touched by their passion and persistence in culinary. A place that we would definitely return for more to excite our tastebuds, the only pity would be the unconventional opening hours. 

The Basement Cafe 
80 Stamford Road, #B1-62, 178901

Opening hours: Mondays to Fridays
11.30am - 5pm (Last order at 4.30pm)

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