The next time you swing by Neil Road for a cafe pitstop, know that Botanist is no longer around. Gone is the lush green leafy wall; in its place sits a casual cafe furnished in minimal decor serving brunch grub with somewhat of a healthy and local twist.
Cheeky is its name, although if you enter by the side alleyway door, it reads “Cheeky Backside.” Saucy and punny, we like. And come nightfall, the space turns into a Smith Street Taps pop-up, at least till the craft beer folks reopen back at their hawker stall at Chinatown Complex in June.
Note, today was just day two of Cheeky’s soft launch operations, so the menu is still being tweaked and fine-tuned. We appreciated that the amicable wait staff, after our meal, so earnestly asked for feedback from the diners at our table, and filled us in about how the eatery will introduce new dishes to its line-up in the upcoming weeks. So really, if you pop by a couple weeks later, the offerings could be completely different from what they were today.
The current lunch selection is small, with just six mains to choose from. I’ll Have The Salad ($10) is a light meal of greens, consisting of arugula, chargrilled baby corn, zucchini, and capsicum with a drizzle of ginger soy dressing. If you’d like to add noodles into the mix, Oba’s Soba Salad ($12) tosses shredded red cabbage with carrots, Japanese cucumber, nori, and smoked duck breast.
On the meatier side, That Healthy Bowl ($14) serves up chunks of Mediterranean-spiced chicken on a bed of broccoli and cauliflower “rice” with crumbed feta and burnt capsicum hummus. Think of it as a more wholesome take on comfort food. It’s flavorful and tasty, despite the fact that carbs have been axed from the recipe, and we’d happily go back for more.
Cheeky’s Salmon Pasta ($14) apparently comes recommended by the servers as well, so if you’ve got a craving for fusilli with lemon and dill cream sauce plus slivers of smoked salmon, try this one.
There are also two options for burgers — one with a beef patty, and a meatless patty featuring fried tempeh. Our Cheeky Burger ($16), a cheeseburger with lettuce, pickled red onions, and a side of curly fries, was solid: well-seasoned, nicely textured, structurally sound. Generally, a well thought-out burger in which all the flavors and textures of the components came together nicely.
We can’t say the same about the current iteration of their Veggie Patty ($15), however. It’s got a thick, beer-battered tempeh patty, soft buns, and tomato slices — all nice! — but, when stacked together, becomes something regrettably one-dimensional. It just sort of disintegrated into mush in our mouths.
But, the server we relayed our observations to gamely took them in stride, so we’ll see if the kitchen can rework some magic on these burgs.
They’ve also got snacks like fried lotus chips ($6), fried pickles with sambal aioli ($6), and a sambal crab scramble ($10), if you’re feeling just a tad peckish, since it’s a nice, quiet spot to chill on lazy afternoons and watch the cars go by along Neil Road.
For a sweet, tropical end to lunch, try the jackfruit panna cotta ($7) or pancakes with kaya chantilly, seasonal berries, and compressed cinnamon apples ($15). Coffees, matcha/chai lattes, teas, and kombuchas are available on the drinks menu, as well as an intriguing but mostly terrifying concoction called Gummy Bear Potion ($5), complete with a description that reads: Why eat when you can drink gummy bears? Why, indeed.