Our first visit to Artichoke was great. Our second, fantastic. Chef Bjorn Shen is still keeping things real in the kitchen and producing amazing food in tandem with his philosophy of serving rustic and approachable Moorish cuisine. It is hard to fault anything that this young maverick comes up with on his small and tight menu – one thing’s for sure, he cooks with heart and it shows.
We started off the evening with their staple of Moorish Dips. We were a little disappointed that they had replaced the avocado dip (which we so loved on our last visit) from the trio with a chickpea dip, but all was forgotten the moment we began to mop up the tasty platter with their crusty Turkish bread. We liked how the trio complemented each other superbly with their distinctive contrast in flavours. The rich orange carrot dip packed a punch with a deep, sweet, caramelized flavour while the chickpea dip was more earthy and nutty. The slightly more acidic yoghurt and feta cheese dip, in contrast, was more tart on the palate, and very satisfying.
The next dish we had was Beetroot and Labneh (roasted red beets, homemade yoghurt cheese and pistachio dukka). This was an update from the version we tried on our previous visit – according to Bjorn, he had intentionally ‘simplified’ the dish to return to the basics of rustic cooking – and boy did he hit the nail on the head with this rendition. We fell in love with this dish instantly. The beetroot was roasted to perfection this round and well dressed with yoghurt and cheese, which combined to form a gorgeous shade of candy floss pink. The dish was made complete by the generous sprinkling of nutty and crunchy pistachio dukka (Egyptian spice).
We also loved their Grilled Haloumi Cheese (squeaky Cypriot cheese and Greek village salad). Each cheese square had a nice chewy, squeaky bite and a delightful lingering milky aftertaste. It was well-paired with a refreshing medley of cherry tomatoes and cucumber, while the very generous serving of good quality olive oil balanced out the acidity in the cheese perfectly.
Our dish of Burnt Eggplant Kisir comprising Turkish bulgur wheat salad, sweet onions, tomato, pomegranate and nuts was prepared well but when compared to the previous 3 stellar dishes, was not particularly memorable for us. Still, it was good.
Highly recommended by Artichoke’s front of house and the very personable Ronnie, was our next dish plainly named, Cauliflower (deep fried with yoghurt sauce, currants, almonds and smoked paprika salt). It took a little convincing on Ronnie’s part as we were skeptical at first (afterall, ain’t cauliflower the uncool cousin of broccoli?). Thank goodness we are an adventurous duo, because this was a surprisingly good dish. Resembling part sea anemone part cerebrum, the golden tips were well charred to a crisp perfection, easily giving this ostensibly boring vegetable a complete overhaul. Such a brilliant showcase of Bjorn’s uncanny talent for creating something spectacular out of seemingly mediocre and humble ingredients.
By the time we made it to their famed Lamb Ribs (twice cooked with chermoula, lemon jam and tahini yoghurt), we were stuffed and only had room for 2 ribs each, but it was exactly how we remembered it from our last visit.
Another fabulous meal at Artichoke, and we can only see this place getting better and better as Bjorn and his team constantly reinvent new dishes that push the boundaries and notions of what great food should look and taste like. His ability to elevate a basic ingredient typically playing second fiddle to one that can hold its own, and in the process breathing into it new life and converting even the most skeptical diner, is admirable.Artichoke 161 Middle Road | +65 63366949