Nobody likes to be nagged. Not by their parents, their spouses or their yet-to-be-fed dog. And certainly not by their food. Especially this suspicious plate of some kind of blended capsicum hummus that commands you to eat it because it is good for you. Or those self-righteous almond flour whatsits that claim to be olive focaccia but to you are just blatant imposters of the bread universe.
For some reason, we are rendered culinarily incapacitated at Persea, unable to articulate exactly what it is we’re eating at this brazenly low-carb, keto-leaning restaurant that is trying to make us healthy against our will.
To add to our suspicion there is a little dog that eyes us equally warily at the ground floor reception before she is scooped up by her owner, whom we later find out is a practising keto-ite co-founder of this unexpected eatery in Ann Siang Road. The pooch is a picture of shiny furred health which, along with the cheerful and earnest demeanour of all who work here, makes us think that there may be something in that capsicum hummus after all.
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Its real name is Eggs Muhammara (S$14) – a comforting thick puree of red peppers, pimenton, olive oil and aromatics, served hot with soft cooked eggs that swirl wobbly whites and custardy yolks into its crimson mix. It tastes like freedom for a capsicum salad after it breaks out of its calorie-free prison.
We’ve never quite understood a diet that dispenses with calories and loads up on fat, but we’re happy to go along with any logic that’s served with pork crackling. Here, you get Chicharonnes (S$6) – the carnivore’s popcorn of blistered puffed pork skin, very light and airy and inconsistently seasoned.
The menu is Mediterranean on overdrive, as the Burratini (S$24) is not so much a Greek salad as it is olive oil with a tomato garnish. But it’s enjoyable anyway, with the refreshing clean flavours of good quality diced tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olives swimming around a ball of creamy burrata.
We’re sold on the calamari (S$24) – meaty curls of squid that are lightly char-broiled for a gentle smokiness, tender and good on their own without the slightly bitter coriander pesto or zhug – a kind of middle eastern salsa verde. It’s punchy and pungent, with hints of smoked chorizo fat.
Keto diets don’t let you eat carbs – the flour variety at least – but the trade off is that you get to eat all the meat and butter you want. Which of course works against human logic that believes food tastes better when you’re not allowed to eat a lot of it. Being told you can eat all the roasted pork belly you want suddenly doesn’t sound so fun after all.
That explains why you’re easily filled up after a couple of courses and by the time the said pork belly (S$24) comes, your oil marinated brain starts to protest. It’s well-executed with the bounce of fat and moist meat layers, even if the intense Moroccan spiced curry is more aggressive than it needs to be. We are by then, strangely craving a real salad – one with crisp greens and barely there vinaigrette – but instead we get tender charred brussels sprouts in a bright yellow chorizo sabayon that registers melted cheese in our brain but a vaguely odd eggy, smoky mayo on the tongue. Chorizo crumbs are the new bacon bits that crowd the top.
While keto diets eschew sugar, Persea cheats a little bit – and why not – with a yogurt parfait (S$16) that has a slightly plasticky texture and is barely sweet, garnished with strawberries and crumble. Rosemary basque cheese cake (S$16) is a cross-dressing cheese course that tastes a little bit like cheesecake but mostly like blue cheese and rosemary crackers. The confusion is something you embrace, or not.
Persea is a cheerful, well-meaning effort to get you to embrace a healthy diet without getting all preachy about it. There’s even booze on the menu with its sugar free but alcohol boosted ginger beer and kombucha. It’s a fresh take on dining out, even if coming downstairs after dinner to a face full of secondhand cigarette smoke does dampen the clean living vibe somewhat.
Still, you do come away feeling somewhat virtuous in the diet department. And that no one had to nag you into it is a step in the right direction.
23 Ann Siang Road
This article was originally published in The Business Times.
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