Telok Ayer has no lack of lunchtime eateries — anyone who works around the area will tell you that. But we sure do love a new concept, and that’s where 51 Soho comes in, taking over the unit vacated by The Rotisserie. Revamping the CBD space into a darker, sleeker venue with brick and wood elements, the prime perch for people-watching is now a hybrid coffee bar, restaurant, and cocktail joint, which essentially means that you can go from from day to night (and all hours in between) with the myriad options on offer here.
It’s headed by the same team behind Birds of a Feather and Halcyon & Crane, and just like these other concepts, 51 Soho exhibits a high attention to detail. Each dish is carefully plated, with every combination of flavors well thought out and executed, alongside cocktails that get creative with Chinese liquors.
In the morning, 51 Soho serves a small selection that includes overnight oats with fruits and granola ($9.90), maple chili mayo chicken sandwich ($10.90), smoked salmon bagel ($10.90), and a big breakfast ($14.90) of sausage, bacon, hash brown, sunny-side up, and English muffin. If your stomach needs a couple hours to warm up, take a sip of coffee, tea, kombucha, or cheese tea brew. For something more substantial, the power drinks will fill you up with flavors like turmeric, lemon, and honey ($10.50), banana, honey, chia seeds, and yogurt ($15), and Nutella, chocolate, Oreo, and vanilla ice cream ($15).
When the clock strikes twelve and you’re scurrying out of your office to make the most of your afternoon break, try the lunch bowls at 51 Soho for a hearty meal on the healthier side that you can customize. They’re a tad pricey, considering the competing offerings from hawker stalls nearby, but they make for a comforting splurge on, say, Friyays.
First, pick a protein from the list, which starts from $15.90 for pan-seared chicken breast with sides like baked curry cauliflower, brown butter French bean, maple miso sweet potatoes, and Greek salad, and goes all the way up to $29.90 for pan-seared wagyu shoulder tender or pan-roasted half lobster served with spicy Vichy carrot, Moroccan fried tofu, brown butter French bean, and butternut and green papaya relish. In between, you’ve got options such as smoked duck breast, pan-seared salmon, and braised beef cheek.
Protein buffs can add on more meat or seafood at an additional cost, though you can skip that option and go straight to your choice of a base, from varieties such as beetroot stew red rice, quinoa with pearl couscous, and leafy greens. Next, decide between toppings like furikake, toasted almond flakes, and raisin cashew nuts, and there’s also an option to throw in extra portions of veggies.
For extra munchies or tea time nibbles, you can get small bites like chicken winglets ($10.90), black garlic bread ($10.90), and shaky fries ($7.90, like McD’s but way better).
As the sun sets, 51 Soho turns into a chill spot for a long, leisurely dinner. It’s close enough to the main stretch of restaurants that you’re cool with hanging out at a hip area, but not right smack in the middle of the action so you still have breathing space for some peace and quiet.
Come sundown, skewered meats are a pretty safe bet to start with. Grilled over charcoal and marinated in a dusting of spice, each order comes in a pair that’s ideal for sharing. The pork belly ($7.50) is lusciously juicy and fatty, while the beef ($11) is tender with a burst of flavor, and the padron pepper with halloumi cheese ($8) is creamy with a lick of heat. Duck gizzard, chicken heart, shiitake mushroom, and mantou are also served on sticks.
Moving on, veggies get dressed up in classy plates like Green & Nutty ($18), a mix of broccoli slaw, edamame bean, spring onion pesto, sorghum, and roasted nuts, and Blue Salad ($20) of romaine lettuce, baby carrot, hard boiled egg, and blue cheese dressing.
Pastas come in two renditions: A hot and sour spaghetti with crab meat, tiger prawn, and ebiko roe ($24), and a cream of zucchini linguine with grilled zucchini, glazed asparagus, and quail egg ($22).
But what we really recommend, especially if you’re after something savory and comforting after a long day at work, is the Salmon & Pearl ($28). The meat is succulent, its skin is gloriously crisp, and the fish stock pearl couscous tossed with sour veggies gives a slight zing to cut through the fatty salmon.
Coming in a close second, the Spice de Canard ($30) serves a meltingly tender braised duck leg that comes with a side of cherry tomato, cucumber, and watermelon salad for that pretty pop of color. And if you’re in the mood to splurge, there’s the pan-roasted half lobster in creamy mixed rice stew ($38) or steak with baked puff pastry ($40) to satisfy.
By now, you may only have space for either cocktails or sweets to end off the meal, so we say skip the desserts — the selection of tarts and cakes are quite standard — and make a beeline for the booze. We’re not talking classics like a sangria or Negroni (although the bar makes ’em), but rather the five signatures ($88/9-12 cups).
Light on the liquor, the Prosperity Cup starts you slow with its fruity, creamy blend of Chinese rice wine, rockmelon, and chocolate. Alternatively, to replace that cake you didn’t have, Dr Panda is a rich mix of Chinese rice wine, banana, and Oreo crumbs with a hint of Earl Grey.
Those who gravitate towards fruity flavors can try the bar’s namesake beverage for sips of plum wine, barley juice, rose syrup, and lychee, or sample the deceivingly easy to drink Bamboo Dream, a refreshing but potent concoction of sweet fermented rice, osmanthus wine, yuzu, vanilla, and passionfruit. Rounding off the selection, Dancing in the Moonlight takes the title of most spirit-forward, comprising of bamboo wine, snow fungus, kumquat purée, and goji berries.
Each drink is served in a differently-designed cup that comes with neat elements, such as 51 Soho’s gin-and-rose scented fabric that covers the container, and Prosperity Cup’s 100 yuan bill made of edible rice paper.
51 Soho is at #01-01, 51 Telok Ayer St.
9755-1058. Mon-Fri 8am-11am, 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10pm; Sat-Sun 10am-2:30pm, 5:30pm-10pm; small bites and drinks available all day.
MRT: Telok Ayer