Points for effort, but Arterial lacks cafe magic

COCONUTS CRITIC’S TABLE—At this point, Chinatown shophouse 24 Temple Street seems almost a cursed address. It has been home to CrazyWorld Café and then Table 24 in just a short span of time. But the string of shutterings has been no deterrent to Arterial. The café newcomer is keen to turn the bad joojoo around. And they’ve taken all the necessary precautions.

First off, they got respected name Shen Tan (of The Wok & Barrel and Ujong fame) in as a chef consultant. Their East meets West menu is a lot more ambitious than most cafes. (We applaud the use of off-cuts like tripe in recipes such as their Hunter’s Beef Stew ($16.90) — offal is sorely under-represented on cafe menus.)

Also, though they’ve kept the flashy feature wall installed by the previous tenant Table 24 — the right side of the room is festooned with decorative pots and pans — the place is now painted in darker hues, providing an edgy vibe. Other hipster décor elements like blackboards and exposed filament bulbs make it a cool space. The track of nineties rock (think “Zombie” by the Cranberries) adds to the alternative vibe.

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But we’re not completely sold on the concept. The cafe scene is killer these days. And little slips can cause new joints a spot on the regular rotation. Arterial struggles to stand out in the over saturated market. The place was empty save one other table when we visited.

Besides, not all their adventurous dishes are hits. The pork aspic terrine ($13.90, top pic) is let down by some too-hard bits of cartilage left suspended in the jelly — a definite choking hazard. And while the handmade wontons ($11.90) dressed with balsamic vinegar sounded great in theory — sweet balsamic is a dead ringer for the Chinese black vinegar — they didn’t use nearly enough of it. The wimpy, barely there sauce and the soggy overcooked wontons prove that smart ideas are no use without proper execution.

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Much better are the drinks. The Liberty coffee (from $3), craft beer ($12.90) — mostly Magic Hat — and basic easy-drinking wines ($12/glass; from $60/bottle) are well priced. And the desserts are solid. Served in hulking slices and made with dark Valrhona chocolate, the mocha cake with coffee glaze ($6.90) is easily the best thing on the menu. Each wedge is sticky, fudgy and almost too rich — great for sharing.

Really, if you’re just here for light refreshments, the place can be pretty charming. It just overreaches, with its poorly presented menu. It’s certainly no restaurant: the young staff are well meaning but take a pretty slapdash approach to service. Plates arrive with food fallen over, cashiers forget to return credit cards after bills are paid. All forgivable gaffes, but they can easily be deal breakers for picky diners.

It’d take a small miracle to turn this outlet into destination dining. And Arterial will never lure folks away from the more polished spots over at nearby Club Street and Duxton Hill. Still, it can be a convenient rest stop if after shopping for bargain kitchenware at Sia Huat or if you’re coming from Sri Mariamman temple. Just don’t expect anything more than coffee and cake.

Coconuts Critic’s Table reviews are written based on unannounced visits by our writers and paid for by Coconuts Singapore. No freebies here.

Arterial is a 24 Temple St., 6222-8589. Open Tue — Sun 10am —10pm.


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