by Lee Chin Wee (14A01B)
If I had written this review a couple of years ago, I would have claimed that Habitat Coffee was a terrific hidden gem – one of those little-known hole in the wall cafés that boast very homely decor and serve good food at relatively affordable prices. Word of mouth on the street and the Internet, however, clearly beat me to the punch. When we visited the cafe, it was packed with customers – even though people tended not to linger, their seats were quickly filled by the number of new customers entering the small, two story establishment. Thankfully, we managed to snatch a table on the second floor that gave us a rather pleasant window view of Upper Thompson road. It was a little stuffy, but comfortable enough for a casual Press meeting.
We wanted to order a light starter to share, and the truffle fries ($8) seemed to fit the bill – it’s amazing how much more appetizing a dish seems when it is associated with the famed (and incredibly expensive) gourmet fungus. As is the norm in most cafes, the truffle flavour is imparted by truffle oil, which was drizzled all over the fries. For the uninitiated, truffle oil is essentially olive oil infused with the taste and smell of truffles. Although celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s views on truffle oil are well-documented, the fries tasted perfectly fine to my untrained palate. They were crispy and very moreish, but some fries were unfortunately doused with too much oil. 3.5/5
My order of seafood aglio olio ($16) was next to arrive. It came nicely plated, with the seafood (about six shelled prawns and two mussels) sitting neatly atop a bed of linguine. The classic combination of pan seared shellfish and well-tossed pasta worked fine here, with the entire dish brought to life by some freshly ground black pepper. The prawns were slightly crunchy and tasted fresh, and the linguine cooked al dente. If anything, my one grouse would be that for $16, more seafood would have been very welcome. Yes, typical Singaporean penny-pinching. 4/5
I recommended the egg and tomato relish with sourdough bread ($14) to one of my EXCO members, after stealing some of the dish from a classmate the previous time I visited the café. It certainly lived up to our expectations – visually stunning, the dish was served on a wooden board, the earthy tones of the sourdough bread providing a nice contrast to the vibrant red hues of the tomato relish. Between mouthfuls of savoury bread, sour relish and wispy strands of egg white, we almost forgot to discuss our end of year agenda. Luckily for me, Allison refused to eat the pieces of bacon embedded in the relish so I managed to snatch most of the sinfully delicious bits of bacon from her plate. Great as a brunch option. 4.5/5
The Big Ben ($14) is Habitat’s version of an English breakfast, complete with a fairly large chicken sausage, scrambled egg, potato pancakes and a slice of ham. It wasn’t bad, but believe me when I say that the portion size is not as big as it might look in the picture. We added one portion of sautéed mushrooms ($2 for each add-on) just to complete the meal. It’s above average café fare, with the runny scrambled eggs a particular highlight. It’s a pretty decent alternative to the egg and tomato relish if you wish to have some breakfast. 4/5
While Bryan swears that the curry chicken pasta ($12) was well-executed fusion cuisine, it wasn’t particularly outstanding to me. Eaten by themselves, the chunks of chicken marinated in curry were actually rather good comfort food. However, it seemed that the chicken was cooked separately from the pasta, and then dunked on top of it when the dish had to be served, because the pasta carried little of the rich curry flavour. To me, at least, it was a little disconcerting to eat the aromatic chicken together with a staple that didn’t soak up the flavours of the curry. It wasn’t bad, but was probably the weakest out of all the main courses I sampled. 3/5
Worth a mention is the ice lemon tea, which one of us made the mistake of buying for $4 a cup. Not only was the cup a distinctly average-sized one, the ice lemon tea was hardly worth thirty cents a sip. Given that you can buy a slightly more watered-down version from the RI drinks stall at less than a quarter of that price, one wonders what inspired that decidedly uninspired move. Save your money for the cakes instead ($4 – $9 a slice), which were excellent the previous time I visited Habitat Coffee.
Habitat Coffee is an unpretentious, welcoming café that manages to serve food which is perfect for an upmarket after-school lunch, or a relaxing weekend brunch. What’s more, the management is fine if you study in the café, so long as you don’t linger during peak lunch hours. Good atmosphere and decent food – the secret to making me feel happy about a wholly unproductive meeting.
Habitat Coffee is located at 233 Upper Thomson Road
Tue – Fri: 11:00 – 22:30
Sat – Sun: 10:30 – 22:30