Nestled in a quiet corner of Bukit Timah (so nestled in that the cab driver, even with GPS assistance, seemed to have trouble locating it) is an unassuming, cozy little rotisserie restaurant offering unapologetic rustic European food. It is prepared with what I can only describe as a passion to delight the senses.
Do not mistake rustic for simple or unrefined. The dishes revealed an expert hand working tirelessly in the kitchen delicately balancing flavour and technique to present to the diners a feeling of time spent on autumn afternoons, watching the leaves fall, drinking full bodied wines and eating food prepared with love by family and friends. Comfort is key here and it is executed beautifully.
Warm, charming, unpretentious and welcoming sums up the decor and the overall feel of the restaurant. Shelter in the Woods is unashamedly relaxed; it is a restaurant best enjoyed slowly. The average waiting time for the rotisserie items is 30 mins to 45 mins according to the menu, which allowed time for one to converse and discover each course at a leisurely pace. Cheryl and I spent a good deal of our time discussing each course that had gone before – how it was prepared, what the ingredients were and reminiscing on previous meals we had enjoyed together. The Chef, Masashi Horiuchi, was gently leading us on a journey of discovering how complex simplicity can be and we in turn meandered down our collected memories of what brought us to love food in the first place.
Following the suggestion on the menu, we ordered several appetisers while we awaited our rotisserie items. In solidarity with the spirit of honest simplicity, below you will find our choice of menu that some may call their degustation but to do so would overly complicate the beauty of the simple care given to each course.
Rotisserie suckling pig – Roasted pig served with rotisserie pineapple , onion confit and gravy
I will not be the first or last writer to muse on the virtues of crispy crackling atop tender pork. That it came served on top of silken buttery mash was an added bonus. The sweetness of the rotisserie pineapple is beautiful paired with the onion confit, and added a nicely balanced acidity to the gravy to cut through the fats naturally present in the pork and cleanse the palate.
Charcuterie board – Pork rilette, pate en croûte, foie gras torchon, home made pickles and baguette
We were reminded of some words we read in a Saveur article by Matt Taylor Gross, “Pâté is a labor of love, but it’s worth every step”.
From the flaky pastry to the consommé jelly, the pork, pistachio, mushroom and veal mix of the pate en croûte was a resounding homage to traditional technique with much attention to detail and care.
The pairing of the rillette with baguette and the foie gras with brioche are a match made in heaven and I need not venture any further into singing their praises (they were damn good).
Grilled bamboo clams with pomelo
A standout dish in an already standout menu, the delicateness of the the clams, zing of the citrus and pop of the pomelo still lingers in my mind especially when I see this photo. The thought excites my palate and I salivate as I write this.
Roasted rib eye steak – Black Angus with fries
As simplistic and honest as food gets, this was the staple on which I was raised. My parents while capable cooks were unfortunately not as adept at treating meat with as much respect or care as the chef. The hand-cut fries were crisp and delicious without a hint of residual oil, the steak rubbed with fresh herbs and garlic and cooked to perfection, the red wine sauce, seemingly prepared with a healthy reduction of quality red wine tied the ingredients together expertly.
Apple tart with homemade ice cream
Let me put out a disclaimer that I am not a “dessert person”. I prefer a good glass of whiskey at the end of a meal over a sweet finale. Cheryl on the other hand loves dessert and will often tempt me to try a spoonful. Often times I am apathetic towards these small indulgences. I was however caught off guard by the interplay of textures and subtlety of the flavour presented, so much so that and I ended up eating half the desert much to Cheryl’s chagrin.
Life has been very hectic recently and writing this has reminded me of how spending time in the warm company of this restaurant felt no different than sharing the company of an an old friend.
I want to be reminded again of how I first fell in love with the simplicity of food prepared by friends and family at a time when the world seemed slower and more care was given to developing passion. A time where there was no use for the word ‘artisanal’ or ‘hipster’. A time where we made more time for ourselves and the simple pleasures around us.
Like a good book is best digested page by page instead of speed reading and a beautiful song best enjoyed when you stop and take the time to truly listen, Shelter in the Woods is a great reminder of why it’s important not to hurry.