Pasta for the People

Pasta J Upper Thomson

Singapore is a foodie’s heaven.  Anything you can possibly conceive of can be found here and by and large the quality is usually very good.  In fact, even today, 5 years after I first stepped foot on these shores, I am constantly amazed by the variety, the abundance and the affordability of all of this food.

From humble yet delicious hawker fare, right up through the mid-range zhi char stalls to the very high end of fine dining Michelin starred restaurants, there is something to suit every palette and wallet.  The competition is so tough that if somewhere is not up to scratch, or the price point is just that little bit too high that it does not give value for money, then it’s finished; the average Singaporean will not tolerate it.

In choosing where to eat, the food comes before all else.  Forget ambiance, forget distance from where one might live, and to a certain extent forget level of service, if the food doesn’t pass muster the food loving public of Singapore will, en masse, boycott the place.  Take for example a recent Sunday evening visit to Ban Leong on Upper Thomson road; this Zhi char restaurant specialising in seafood (particularly crab) is situated on a main road, half of the restaurant is practically inside a concrete bunker, hidden underneath a filthy overhead bridge.  The service is spectacularly, amazingly awful!  From being ignored when trying to order for 10 solid minutes when stood in front of the Aunty at the cashier, to being pushed out of the way by angry members of the waiting staff the abysmal service never ceases to astonish me.  I recently witnessed a member of staff being given an almighty dressing down by a very rotund aunty from the kitchen, I was starting to feel bad for her until she let loose with a series of what I can only assume to be some rather unpleasant comments about rotund aunty’s lineage.

But, here’s the thing; this place was packed!  Absolutely rammed to the gills with families, couples and the odd Ang Mo, and the reason quite clearly is the food.  It is good, it is reasonably priced and the portions are of a decent size.  Even with the atrocious service, loved ones and friends made a conscious decision on that day to make a trip to this place; the level of service, the unfriendliness of the staff and the fact that it looks like a prison canteen did not enter anyone’s mind.  Food is king.

Service, or the lack of it, here in Singapore is something I will come back to at a later date.  It’s something that manages to constantly anger, humour and astonish me often all at the same time, but one place where I cannot complain about the service is this week’s review: Pasta J.

Pasta J is situated on Upper Thomson Road, and as the name would suggest specialises in Pasta.  It really is a very bizarre establishment, from the plastic flowers in plant pots hanging from the ceiling, the bizarre signs adorning the walls, the fact that it is a Dog friendly restaurant (you can have your Dog’s picture taken inside a life-size Facebook photo frame if that’s something you’d like to do when going out for a meal) to the slightly kitsch decorations, it really does feel as if someone just woke up one day and decided to turn their living room into a restaurant.

All of the above does give it a certain charm, and it is unlike any restaurant I have ever been to in Singapore, in fact I am genuinely surprised yet very happy that a place like this does exist here.  This is maybe one of the few places where my theory that the food is the only thing that matters doesn’t apply.  The food is not bad, please do not misunderstand me, but like the establishment itself, it is just a bit odd.

We arrived on a windy rain sodden Friday evening, trudging in somewhat dejected and tired after a week of long hours and little joy in our respective jobs, we craved somewhere quiet, comfortable and without fuss.  We found it in Pasta J.  After sitting down, a man who I presume to be the owner, welcomed us warmly and talked us through the menu and after recommending a beer for me, to which I readily agreed to, we decided on what to eat.  We ordered Pesto and crackers, followed by Seafood pasta (Clammy Addiction) for my girlfriend, and Clam Chowder followed by Rib Eye steak (also known as the break up steak as it’s supposedly so good that you will immediately break up with your girlfriend/boyfriend.  There is no evidence to suggest this has ever happened. Ever) for me.

The food, like the establishment, is rather odd.  There are big flavours here no doubt but everything, and I do mean everything, tastes like it has been cooked in bacon.  The clam chowder when it arrived looked so unlike any chowder I had ever seen before that I actually ignored it thinking my girlfriend had ordered some bacon soup.  The pesto was probably one of the best things we ate, punchy and Zingy but also quite light.  My steak I have to say was somewhat average, cooked exactly to what I had asked for (medium rare) but the flavour was underwhelming and a bit bland.  My girlfriend’s pasta came with a generous portion of seafood, but unfortunately an equally generous amount of essence of bacon, I am not sure how the chef prepares the food but I would hazard a guess that a meat based stock forms the base for a lot of his creations.

Desert was a tiny, and I mean miniscule Crème Brule and an equally tiny Pandan Ice cream.  The fact that that the sugar was caramelised a la table did not make up for the fact that these deserts were shockingly small for the price charged ($8 for the Brule and $6 for the Pandan Ice Cream.)

The place was not packed, but it was by no means empty.  A steady stream of punters arrived throughout the night along with a fair few Deliveroo drivers; all were met with kind and sincere service; everyone was made to feel welcome.  Does Pasta J destroy my theory that the food and only the food is the only deciding factor behind keeping an F&B place open in Singapore?  Maybe.  One thing is for sure, the team at Pasta J are doing something almost unique in Singapore: providing decent home cooked food with great warm service, even if it is inside the front room of a dog loving eccentric.

Our meal for 2 cost $133, the price was very high due to the ridiculous Singapore alcohol tax applied to my 3 delicious Belgian beers.  Pasta J can be found at 205 Upper Thomson Road.