Park Bench Deli - I've been waiting for this since Chef Ming Tan told me (during the filming of Food Wars Asia) he was starting his own joint. Now, if you liked his food at Lolla, you know you can expect bold flavours that work well together.
It's about the best sandwiches ever - from the chef's perspective. It's food they dream of making, hearty fare unencumbered by structure and tradition. Here, they are recreating classics, remixing all-time favourite local dishes into sandwiches, and rethinking boundaries of traditional sandwich-making. Pornworthy food, you could say.
Park Bench Deli is a collaboration with Chef Andrei Soen of the Cajun Kings and management guru Aamir Ghani. After their test concepts met with wild approval at pop-up events and food festivals, they decided it was time for a permanent outlet.
They just opened last week in a shophouse at 179 Telok Ayer Street, with one of the most gorgeous kitchens ever (I so want to live there).
One thing they believe in - the right ratio of bread to filling. They actually hollow out the middle part of the Hoagie roll so they can pack deliciousness to the roof. The Philly Cheese Steak features sliced beef gorgeously flash seared using industrial strength high heat, and sauteed onions tossed in a housemade American cheese sauce. The thin slices make it easy for you to take a bite, and the quality beef makes you moan with every mouthful. It's S$16 for a six-inch roll, but so worth it.
The Fried Chicken Sandwich (S$14) was really popular at their pop-up events. This is Southern Fried Chicken like you've never had it before. The whole boneless chicken thighs are flavoured with lemon zest, garlic and rosemary, then cooked sous vide style for ultra juiciness. As if that's not enough, it's marinated overnight in buttermilk. Then it's dredged in flour and spices, and deep-fried for crunch. Corn and cabbage slaw with homemade Russian dressing complete the ensemble.
You can literally see how moist these thighs are. I bet chicken breast would work too.
Here's the Asian inspired Kong Bak Bahn Mi (S$14). Check out the thick slabs of pork belly that have been braised for a full 24 hours in dark soy, honey, anise, cinnamon, ginger and garlic. This rich and meltingly tender meat is paired with crisp pickle mix of daikon, carrot, cucumber and lime leaf. The final topping of crushed peanuts and coriander make this an absolute blast of flavours and textures.
Chef Ming lovingly ladling the braised gravy reduction all over the meat. Yes, that's some serious "zhup" all right. Thick and tasty, more salty than sweet, but complements the roll.
Kong bak, I love you.
But wait, there's more...
Pulled pork -- oh my, this is good enough to eat on its own!
It goes into their most beautiful sandwich - the Torta (S$15) - which is a take on the Cochinita Pibil, a Mexican pork dish of Mayan origin. Slabs of pork shoulder are marinated in achiote (annatto) seed, orange and lime juice, wrapped in banana leaf and then braised low and slow.
The pulled pork is then dressed with Cotija cheese, pickled onions, and salsa on a bed of luscious guacamole. And the kicker? Pork crackling sprinkled liberally on top. This combination is complex yet comforting, and before you know it, you'll have wolfed down half the sandwich chasing the flavours.
With such punchy, over-the-top sandwiches, I'm not surprised they already sold out early in their first week. The menu may vary from time to time, as they continue experimenting. I see Pork Sisig and Duck Confit on the paper menu, along with the Peanut Butter Jelly Time confection that I tried at Savour 2015.
If you don't live by bread creations alone, they've got side dishes like Pasta Salad, Potato Salad, Wild Rice Edamame Salad, and Quinoa Salad, along with dips like spinach and a really nice hummus.
Park Bench Deli has a cool and casual vibe. They make it easy for you to do takeaways.
They also serve breakfast - lox bagels, a sandwich of eggs, cheddar, frisee, aioli on brioche, granola and an acai bowl (with banana, strawberry, coconut flakes, and honey).
Meanwhile I am still dreaming of pastrami piled high on rye. I hope Park Bench Deli brings back their smoked pastrami creation that I missed!
PARK BENCH DELI
179 Telok Ayer Street
Open Mon — Fri 10.30am till 10pm (closed 4-5pm)
(last food order at 930pm)
Sat 10.30am till 4pm
(last food order at 330pm)
Many thanks to Chef Ming and team for the invitation and hospitality