Pickle My Fancy
140 Robinson Road
This is the first thing I learned while looking for Pickleville: Number one forty Robinson Road does not want to be easily found. Although located in a rather prime location at the heart of Singapore’s Central Business District, one forty Robinson Road demands to be slowly discovered. Such was the fate I had to endure as I paced up and down outside a building I was certain was one forty Robinson Road. A Pickleville pop-up sign by on an easel stands defiantly at the foot of the stairs as if telling you, “Yes. You are at the right place. But, can you find us?”
For the uninitiated, Pickleville is located on the fourth floor of Crown at Robinson, a building complex that houses The Working Capitol, the hippest co-working space to grace this part of town. Climb up the short flight of stairs (to your left is Plain Vanilla bakery) walk through the ornate gold-trimmed door, styled closely to the movies of The Great Gatsby, take the lift up to the fourth floor and enter the reception area of The Working Capitol. On the left, lush sunlight washes the cafe aglow with unending brightness, seamlessly and effortlessly placing Pickleville centre stage.
The outfit is simple. The atmosphere is quiet with the occasional whisper at a corner, interrupting the pervading silence of the space. This is where Pickleville chose to launch a novel concept mostly unheard of on a large scale in food-dense Singapore. As evidenced by their moniker, Pickleville specialises in pickled food. Apart from pickling, Pickleville is also inspired by the process of fermentation, a food preservation method that, while closely related to pickling in as far as what it sets out to achieve, couldn’t be more different in terms of taste and preparation. I was informed that pickling was an apt choice at this location as the kitchen is not ideal for heavy cooking.
Pickling is a preservation process where food is immersed in a solution of water, vinegar, and salt and stored cold. Just a few days in the refrigerator is sufficient for the pickled food to be ready for consumption. With a pH level of 4.6 or lower, pickling not only kills most bacteria, it also directly changes the texture and taste of the food.
On the other hand, fermenting is a more scientifically involved process where sugars and carbohydrates have been eaten by the good bacteria and converted into acids, carbon dioxide and alcohol. It is these substances that add a depth of flavour to the fermented food, as in the case of the Korean Kimchi.
Here at Pickleville, both methods of preservation are employed as a way to introduce a new flavour profile and a response to an unplanned demand from the health conscious who knows the benefits pickling and fermenting gives to the body.
Pickleville diligently creates a mind-boggling variety of pickled vegetables for their menu. Going up to the counter, you can see the whole array of pickled food on display. The choices range from the common vegetables such as red onion, zucchini, and pumpkin to the more unique selection of quail eggs and fennel. Each food has an individual tartness to the tongue, which means that not everything goes well with everything else. It is almost like a game of jigsaw where just because two pieces are the same shade, doesn’t mean that it would fit. The pickled food acts as a condiment to Pickelville’s choice of proteins, carbohydrates, salads, and grains.
The combination is not exhaustive. I figure you can come here every day for three months and not run out of combinations you have yet to try.
If you’re not the adventurous type, Pickleville has helpfully created four bowls catering to different proteins (chicken, salmon, beef, and vegan) combined with pickled condiments that have been tried and tested for taste.
As a side note, I must mention that apart from their lunch bowls, Pickleville also serves up a mean breakfast of sourdough toast and homemade spreads. I needed to mention this because Pickleville is where I finally found a Singapore based eatery that makes their own coffee butter. Coffee butter is simply butter that has been infused with espresso beans. Although it is an acquired taste (meaning I didn’t quite like it, but I need time to develop this relationship), it is something everyone ought to try at least once.
Oh, that, and their handmade peanut butter. Their peanut butter is so authentic that at first bite, you will not doubt it’s claim of being handmade. It is truly such a lovely delight to eat.
For the purpose of this review, given the nature of the food, I will be talking about how well the items in their Lunch Bowl pairs with each other in terms of flavour, texture, and taste instead of how each bowl stands on its own.
This sliced beef flank is as tender as that first time you fell in love. To enjoy it, one needs only to close one’s eyes and appreciate how easily each bite gives way and dances beautifully with the tanginess of the sauce and the exoticism of the sprinkling of spices on top. For sides, we are presented with pickled red onions (tender with nary a hint of sharp spiciness), pickled slice pumpkins (silken with a slight bite), broccoli (crunchy and oh, so fresh), and cherry tomatoes (petite, juicy, and sweet). By itself, each ingredient is unimpressive, almost pedestrian, but together it creates a synergy of taste that perfectly balances each other like an equation solved. Served on top of brown rice, the roasted beef roast is a hearty option that will leave you comfortably satiated and pleasantly fulfilled.
All the Lunch Bowls at Pickleville are served in beautifully weighted bowls made by a boutique Bangkok ceramic artisan, Cone Number 9. The Vegan bowl offers up all the goodness and flavour intracities as its meat counterparts but with a thoughtful replacement of grilled tempeh (fermented soyabeans) as a protein alternative. Served alongside pickled zucchini, pickled cucumber, mixed greens, sunflower seed, cherry tomatoes, and coconut ranch dressing, the Vegan bowl is packed with the best of all the good things Nature has to offer. The nutty taste of tempeh is subtly balanced with the generous drizzling of coconut ranch dressing (mayonnaise is replaced with coconut milk) and the crunch of sunflower seeds.
With the build-a-bowl option, you can have the choice of anything you heart desires served in bowl of healthy goodness. But before, you get too crazy with the level of personalisation, might I humbly suggest a combination of the following: one green or grain, one protein, one pickled item, one fermented item, two sides, one dressing, and one garnish.
I truly am enamoured by the blend of pesto sauce with Zaatar garnish. Zaatar is a middle eastern spice realness that combines the best of the most aromatic spices from the region; fresh oregano, sumac, ground cumin, sesame seeds, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper. Pesto is, of course, made with pine nuts, basil, cheese, and olive oil. Combined, it’s almost like walking through a garden oasis lush with greenery in the middle of a dessert. The feta with chilli, on the other hand, gives this bowl the heat it craves and the creaminess it deserves.