Tamarind Hill Singapore is an upscale restaurant located next to the tranquil Labrador Park. The restaurant had its official launch this Wednesday, 12 September. Opened by Samadhi Retreats, who own a collection of resorts and restaurants across Southeast Asia, Tamarind Hill Singapore employs a formula that has seen success.

The concept: a modern, upscale dining experience, with a pan-Southeast Asian theme, in a serene leafy locale that pays homage to Singapore’s better tropical nature.

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The Approach

Housed in a beautiful old colonial bungalow atop a hill, my first impression of Tamarind Hill was that the location was quite perfect. Lit by spotlights, the building emerged rather magically as we drove up the small hill that leads to the restaurant. The Thai dancers that were positioned at the foot of the long walkway up to the restaurant door undoubtedly lent an air of the exotic orient. If the intention had been to reference the romantic mysticism associated with the Far East, this was fairly well achieved. Indeed, at the end of the night, I felt that the colonial bungalow and the natural atmosphere of its location were Tamarind Hill’s best assets.

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As we stepped inside, I found the space was even bigger than I had judged from the façade of the building. In the foyer, I spotted a menu that seemed rather randomly placed on a table. The launch was meant to be a cocktail event with canapés served, so I surmised that the menu was not for us. Nevertheless, I was confused as to what the launch was intended to showcase. Food? Ambience? Potential event space?

The Space

The focal point of the bungalow is the biggest room right in the centre of the house, conspicuously containing a very large rectangular bar meant for the enjoyment of pre-dinner cocktails. The design of the colonial style bar and the gargantuan chandeliers hanging overhead were quite exquisite. The chandeliers were probably the centerpiece of that room – cool modern details (a black frame and small black lampshades in the place of candles) and evocative of noir jazz age.

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However, I wondered why the two rooms adjoining the main room were left so starkly bare. There were no dining tables, just a few of those awkward tables with white skirting that catering companies provide, and one or two high stools around a small bar table in the corner.

In contrast, the outdoor patio and yard area had a few round tables where people could sit and eat. Some food was being served on the patio which perhaps explains this strange logistical decision.

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The patio and yard area were probably my favourite areas of the house (though it’s hard to say about the indoor dining area since there was zero décor in both rooms). The patio overlooks Labrador Park and all of that natural greenery, while the large grassy backyard serves as a good place to enjoy the night sky with a drink and/or cigarette in hand. Adding to the oriental mystic vibe was the gamelan ensemble playing traditional Indonesian music. I started to wonder if the Oriental thing was getting a bit heavy handed.

The Food

The food served was unimpressive. I should preface by saying that the “canapés” we sampled at the cocktail event might not be representative of Tamarind Hill’s usual standard of food. I’m not sure they were meant to be representative at all as the press release seemed to indicate something different altogether.

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With tantalizingly elegant and luxurious dishes such as Grilled Wagyu Sirloin and Foie Gras topped with Green Curry Reduction and Deep Fried River Lobster served with Tamarind Sauce, I’m hard pressed to believe that what we were served belonged to the same menu at all.

I sampled the Pineapple Fried Rice, Kaffir Lime Rice, Tom Yum Martini fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls, a Thai Papaya/Mango salad, seared beef, what seemed like seared tuna (but tasted like salmon) with a Thai style sauce and finally, basil minced chicken dish served in an interpretation of a Kueh Pie Tee shell.

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The basil minced chicken dish was probably the best of the night, though I personally felt the shell it was served in was too sweet/waffle cone-like. I thought the Pineapple Fried Rice, Vietnamese Spring Rolls and Papaya/Mango salad were average but unremarkable. You could probably find the same or better in an ordinary Thai/Vietnamese restaurant in Singapore. The Tom Yum Martini was strange. It did not, as the name suggests, involve alcohol but was actually more like a Tom Yum gazpacho. It was not undrinkable but neither was it good as I felt the flavours were not defined and it tasted like cold Tom Yum water.

Also, the fish was strange. Initially, I thought it had the colour of tuna but someone pointed out it was salmon. And it did taste like salmon, except the sauce was too overpowering to really taste the fish. Lastly, the beef. The beef was was under seasoned. I actually could not swallow my piece and had to spit it out because it had the texture of rubber.

At the end of the night, I was still left wondering about Tamarind Hill Singapore. Full marks on ambience but average to middling on the canapés served for the night – I wonder how the full menu would fare and I’m still curious as to how the dining rooms would be furnished on a normal day.