Whilst Pine Tree Cafe’s name suggests a mysterious Ikea-eatery cross, the location is what gives the game away. Fortune Centre. A bastion of vegetarian virtue, and one of the few places in Singapore where the enlightened few may (just, may) outnumber their carnivorous counterparts. It’s like Hong Lim Park, but a bit less political and a bit more food-focussed. Indeed, Fortune Centre is one of those confused (and confusing) spaces that are found throughout Singapore. It’s one where shops selling Buddhist bric-a-brac exist alongside massage parlours and salacious (and annoying) masseuses. The mind boggles, the palate purrs.
Pine Tree Cafe is located on the relatively quiet second floor, just left of the escalator. It’s a popular and disjointed place – disjointed because most of the seating is actually in a separate unit located down a dingy passageway (and around the corner). The fare is mostly Chinese Hakka, with a fixed menu of rice sets, hotpots, yong tau foo and thunder tea rice, and an ever-changing array of daily specials. The service is typically no-nonsense – my plate was literally slammed down in front of me – which, in a way, is all part of the charm. Who said vegetarians were pacifiste, eh? EH.
Pine Tree Cafe
#02-09/13 Fortune Centre, 190 Middle Road
Open 10:00-21:00 Monday-Saturday; CLOSED Sunday
It is said that the eyes are the window to the stomach, meaning if something looks appetising, then it will probably taste pretty good as well. This dish is the exception to the rule. It looked rubbish: grease-smeared plate, soggy lettuce, pale egg noodles and scratchy char siew. Before tucking in, what I looked forward to most was writing this most scathing of reviews.
Then I made the mistake of tasting the damn thing. Bloody fantastic! The wontons were delicate and crispy, and had an imploringly delicious seafood taste. I was given two, but would have begged for more (nearly did). The char siew may have looked dry, but it turned out to be a bit of a sly fox. Moist and flavoursome, it was very tasty. The serving of egg noodles looked a bit small, but turned out to be very generous. They had a robust and springy texture, and came to life when mixed with the sauce atop which they sat. Overall this was very, very good – no, it was superb – value.
The ingredients selected were: beancurd, aubergine, tofu, kai lan, and some seaweed-stuffed-tofu-type-thing. We found the choice of ingredients a little limited, especially seeing as most of them were processed soy products; more vegetables (mushrooms?) would have been nice. Egg noodles were requested, rice noodles were served, life goes on. The ingredients themselves seemed to be quite fresh and tasty, the problem lay with the sauce that was ladled (literally) on top. Very thick and very sweet, it was also infused (perhaps separately) with chilli. Combined, the sweetness, spiciness, and thickness of the sauce was quite overpowering, and did a wonderful job of masking the individual flavours of the ingredients. Unfortunately such practice is commonplace in Singapore, and is little more than a reflection of local taste preferences. Hmm.
Pine Tree Cafe is a popular place in one of Singapore’s vegetarian strongholds; it must be doing something right. The service leaves much to be desired, but the quality of the wonton noodle (specifically: the wontons) more than makes up for it. I’ll be going back.