A bunch of ex colleagues from my TV days met up recently and we decided to go to Joan Bowen Cafe, a social enterprise off MacPherson Road. Besides decent food, the casual cafe is well known for hiring staff with special needs, which the manageress took care to tell us at the start in case “service is not up to par”. But seriously, there is really nothing to complain about “The Special Culinary Centre” which has been running for close to seven years now.
The place, which has a vibrant art theme, is certainly much brighter and cheerier than my last visit a few years back. Next to their popular pasta and salad items, the menu has also been expanded to include more meat dishes and Japanese favorites.
We kicked off with this wonderful Salmon Skin Salad ($12/$18) that has crispy Salmon Skin served with mixed vegetables dripped with a lovely plum and sesame dressing. It was so good, we ordered another one! (Either that or we were really hungry!)
As majority of us were wine lovers, we asked for a bottle of red which was strong and flavorful, and at just $28, it was seriously more than fine. You can opt to bring your own bottles but there is a corkage fee of $15 for each bottle. They do serve an assortment of beers from $9, while house pour wine per glass costs $10.
As with most of my food-loving friends, each of us would try to order different dishes so we can sample each other’s food. I went for the Duck Leg Confit ($18) as I’m love the dish and am still looking for the best one on this sunny island of ours. This wasn’t the best I tasted thus far but it was decent as the skin was crisp and the meat, though a tad dry, was still savory enough. Love the mashed potato and salad that came with it.
This rich-looking Chili Crab Pasta ($18) is a Joan Bowen Specialty and the folks who ordered it were highly satisfied with it. The gravy was spicy, chock-ful of spices and crab meat. (For me, I rather dip bread into chili crab gravy but that’s just me).
This was another interesting dish. It’s Grilled Beef Cubes in Skewers ($28) which is simply a fanciful name for Beef Satay. It’s a good choice if you love grilled meat. Not too light and not too heavy either.
This was actually the first order that arrived to the table and we were stunned by the generous portion – that’s two solid chicken thighs there, ladies and gentlemen! It was nice and tasty but way too much for one person unless you are really really into chicken. The pan-seared Rosemary & Lemon Chicken ($15) is marinated with rosemary, fresh lemon and garlic. Flavorful and chewy, it’s definitely value for money!
We had a great laugh when it came to dessert. We were all so full that we decided to order one Oreo Cheesecake ($3) and one Brownie a la mode (3) to share among 8 of us Let me tell you right now that each serving is meant for one person’s consumption and one person only! No wonder the waiter kinda rolled his eyes when he delivered it and smirked when we have the audacity to ask for eight spoons! We eventually ordered a few more of each, haha! The warm brownie with melted vanilla ice-cream is da bomb (pictured above, front) and highly recommended. The Oreo cheesecake (the one behind) – “possibly the smallest cheesecake in the world”, as one friend quipped – is alas simply a frozen mousse with cheese and cream; it tastes like frozen Oreo but that’s it.
At the end, our combined meal (comprising wine, main course, dessert and coffee) only cost us $30 each. Joan Bowen Cafe is a great place for dining either on your own or in groups. The only snag is that it is rather inconvenient to get to if you don’t have a car or a direct bus to MacPherson. The nearest MRT is Potong Pasir and even then that’s about a 20-minute walk to the cafe. Still, if you are in or around the area, do check it out as it’s a nice place to dine in and it has a great serving staff.
Joan Bowen Cafe is at 9 Jalan Wangi.