[SG] Cafe Pal at Bugis - hardly a pal in service

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Along the area of Bugis, this inconspicuous restaurant might be easily overlooked. Drawing attention for its bottled milk tea/bubble tea, this was our second visit as the first was a mere takeaway order of their beverages.

Thai iced tea | S$3/-, Moo Moo Island | S$4.80/-

What we realised was that there was a rather large price discrepancy for the drinks between the dine-in and takeaway menu. The bottled white-coloured drink shown above is the Moo Moo Island, which comprise green tea, young coconut and milk. We found that while the serving size was generous for the takeaway price (note the price difference as we compare against the dine-in prices later on in this review), it lacked green tea taste and was predominantly a coconut-based drink. What we particularly liked about this were the slices of young coconut flesh within the drink. The sweetness was also appropriate and suited our liking, without being overly saccharine.

Verdict: 7.5/10 for (Moo Moo Island), refer below for verdict on Thai iced tea

Stepping in to the restaurant, there was an awkward moment of silence as the staffs looked at us. One of the ladies then walked over to us and ushered us to a table at the back of the restaurant.

There was a distinctly strong fragrance of curry as we walked to our table and we realised that the staffs were preparing curry over the portable electric stove and toasting fish strips. However, it does not quite offer an open concept kitchen as the ordered dishes were brought in from the back of the restaurant before some plating work was carried out at the counter before being served.

Lime juice and iced lemongrass drink

We ordered two set dinners whereby we had the option to choose one main (either rice or noodle dish) and one beverage. With a limited choice of lime juice, lemongrass, coffee and tea, we went for the former two. The lime juice and lemongrass drink on the ala carte menu would have cost S$4.80/+ each. While the lime juice tasted refreshing, the lemongrass was slightly too strong for my liking.

Verdict: 7.5/10

Thai iced tea | S$5.80/+

At a S$2.80 premium or essentially double the takeaway price, expect to be rewarded with a choice of two toppings, of which we went for the aloe vera and pearls. While there were large chunks of fresh aloe vera, the pearls were a large disappointment as it tasted limp and squishy though this could be largely subjective as the texture could be favoured by some. The saving grace was the richness of the Thai milk tea which was sweet but not overly done so it was still pleasing on my palate.

This was not available as part of the set menu even if we wanted to top-up and had to order it ala carte. Separately, it was stated on the menu that at just S$1 extra, you could have the toasted fish strips to go along as a complementing snack. We checked with the lady taking our orders and she reaffirmed and we decided to give it a shot.

Verdict: 7.5/10

Toasted fish strips | S$5/+

While this was one of the most enjoyable starters with the crispness and slight savouriness to tease one's palate, it was poor communication between the staffs and us that led to some dismay. The bill came out to be S$5 instead of the stipulated S$1. When I tried to verify the discrepancy, I was told that I did not make it clear to the lady taking the order that I wanted the S$1 add on. Not at any point was the gentleman apologetic but rather, the tonality made me felt as if it was my fault for not making my orders clear. As a result, I was given the ala carte portion which had a more generous serving.

Quite frankly, the ala carte portion was worth the five dollars. However, if pointing to the menu and articulating clearly that I wanted the add on was not obvious, I rest my case. I decided that the food is innocent and decided to deliver our fair verdict score.

Verdict: 8.0/10 

Pad Thai noodle set (includes one drink) | S$12/+

Pad Thai is almost my comfort food when it comes to Thai cuisine and is the staple dish that I always order. A simple stir-fry dish that had the right level of sweetness for me balanced by the acidity of the lime. The beansprouts also added a nice texture but while the tiger prawns were large and juicy, it had a stale after-taste which dragged on the palate. Possibly, fresher prawns could be used and arguably the portion size of the dish was rather meagre.

Verdict: 7.0/10

Pineapple fried rice set (includes one drink) | S$15/+

The pineapple fried rice with eggs and pineapples tasted rather pedestrian but it had quite a fair amount of peeled prawns within the rice. The two wedge of pineapple slices were completely bland and dry. On hindsight, I have no idea why or how such fruits could be served to diners, considering the dish is pineapple fried rice. While the pork floss saved the dish, I honestly cannot see how this dish justified the S$12 price tag when available as ala carte.

Verdict: 6.5/10

Phad See-Eu Fried Rice (ala carte) | S$12/+

With a choice of pork or beef to go along with this fried rice with dark sauce, we went for the former. While the diced mushrooms and sunny side-up were good complementing ingredients to the stir-fry, it was a touch too savoury for my palate. For those with a higher tolerance to salinity, this might appeal.

Verdict: 6.5/10

I struggled to distinguish the lure of the restaurant for the plain interior decorations and accessories such as table lamp seemed to convey a more cafe impression to customers. With its core offering of Thai cuisine and milk teas, I suppose it seems to fit into the category of restaurants more.

Overall, I felt that the service was rather cold and lacked a more personal touch such as providing recommendations, etc. The prices stated are inclusive of 7% GST but it excludes the 10% service charge. For us, a dining experience is more than just food but rather a combination of customer service, ambience and the company. With any of these elements out of alignment, the meal cannot be a satisfactory one and in this case, I am pretty sure Cafe Pal disappointed us largely.

For the pedestrian quality in food which comes at a premium and the poor dine-in experience, it would be highly unlikely that we would drop by again. 

Overall verdict: 6.0/10

Cafe Pal
43 Middle Road, Bugis
Singapore 188952
Tel: (+65) 6333 5400

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  1. While I think the food is good and will be willing to patronize the cafe again as I'm working nearby, I totally agree with you on the cold service and the strange pricing. The ambiance created certainly does not seem to originate from the Land of Smiles.