The restaurant’s name is LUMO, but any light it hoped to shine on the local F&B scene was quickly snuffed out when Circuit Breaker measures forced it to close from April 7.
It isn’t fair, but what is, nowadays. Still, it’s not waiting for sympathy – it launched straight into takeaway/delivery, offering 30 per cent off your bill as an incentive to try out this new kid on the block.
They certainly work hard for their money. Orders from S$120 are delivered for free, which means that after the discount, you end up paying S$84 plus taxes and that’s it. It’s quite a deal, considering that our final bill of S$94 gets us two appetisers, three main courses and one dessert.
Hopefully, their sincere efforts earn them some loyal fans when (or if, at the rate reopening dates keep getting shifted) dining in restaurants is allowed again. Even when you factor in the long ride from South Bridge Road, you can tell that there’s nothing slipshod about the casual bistro-style fare with a few original touches thrown in.
The menu is the handiwork of Martin Wong, who made real food good at Tess Bar & Kitchen and went on to more experimental Nordic-influenced fare at Mythz and Myths before it closed down a year ago. In fact, LUMO sits in exactly the same space that it vacated, with Chef Wong back in action. His food is straightforward here – a steak is a steak and pasta is pasta, but well-executed with attention to little details. A common snack of deep fried squid (S$15) loses its crunch but not its tender bite, and it gets an imaginative lift from a sweetish, smoky milky sauce that gets a surprising hint of brine from ikura. Oven-roasted cauliflower (S$15) has a nice char on one side and an addictive spicy, garlicky mayo.
Fettucine with Asari clams (S$26) is vongole by any other name, but here it’s tossed aglio olio style with a buttery base and chilli, with crunchy strips of fennel. A minute in the microwave doesn’t do too much damage to the clams and the heat helps to loosen it up. A mushroom risotto (S$24) is rich with its blanket of cream and satisfying cheesy finish. Angus ribeye (S$32) is requested as medium-rare but after the ride is further cooked slightly to a perfect medium. It’s lean but juicy, accompanied with red wine sauce and grainy mustard. And shoestring fries, slightly limp but nothing a dip in ketchup can’t fix. The deep-fried apple pie (S$12) is a must-have for fans of the McDonalds’ version – a luxed-up gooey apple and raisin mixture enrobed in flaky puff pastry that you smother with vanilla sauce. The only quibble is that we should have two for the price.
As you consider holding a candle for LUMO, spare a thought for Nalati which boldly opened smack in the middle of the Circuit Breaker to offer takeaway meals for CBD workers in essential services.
The robust zichar-ish menu has more of a family-style appeal – comforting if a little rough around the edges. But, like LUMO, we’re struck by their sincerity and eagerness for feedback so they can improve. A current 50 per cent discount until June 30 also makes it a risk-free opportunity to try out a new place.
While its signature black pepper crabs don’t qualify for the discount, we’re gently dissuaded from ordering it as they can’t guarantee the quality on the day we want it. So instead, we settle for their recommendations from the discounted menu.
As expected, the trip takes its toll on the nuggets of deep-fried cubes of salt and pepper silken tofu (S$10), although we can taste how good it would have been if it had come straight from the kitchen. The same with the pandan-infused cereal prawns (S$23)which are no longer crisp but are still plump and bouncy underneath, and it’s hard to stop eating the copious amount of buttery Nestum-like cereal with a hint of pandan fragrance, and the kick of dried chilli and curry leaves.
The deep fried soft-shell crabs (S$22.50) have a similar inspiration but with a shower of flaked almonds instead of cereal and more aggressive seasoning. Along the same vein is the sauted pork belly (S$16.80) which needs to be eaten with rice because it’s way too salty and spicy to be eaten on its own but otherwise packs a punch with lots of sliced red and green chilli and spring onion segments.
Holding its own is the pork ribs soup (S$14.50) – a wholesome brew with plenty of ribs and a sweetness from red dates. But the best performer is the steamed cod (S$32) – a saint of a fish that can withstand all kinds of abuse from over-cooking to long transportation. It stays silky smooth, fully absorbing the intensity of the black bean sauce mixture that covers it, so you’re almost fighting for the last bit of milky flesh before you realise it.
Both Lumo and Nalati show that there’s some substance in their kitchens, even if they’re handicapped by the whole delivery process. But as this is going to be the only way to get food to their customers for a longer than expected period, they – and every other restaurant for that matter – should start creating dishes that actually like being on the road. Who knows, they could well start a whole new dining trend.
LUMO: 50 South Bridge Road
Visit lumo.sg or call 8921 3818
Nalati: Distrii Singapore, Republic Plaza
Visit facebook.com/NalatiSG or call 9710 6471
This article was originally published in The Business Times.