Apologies in advance for the poor photographs: I didn't have a good camera with me.
The Dunearn is a fairly young, modern European restaurant that opened in July 2009, and is located in the Guild Hall of the NUSS Graduate Club, at the Bukit Timah Campus (i.e. the Law Faculty of NUS). The food is pretty good, portions are fairly generous, service is decent and prices are low... what's not to like?
A smorgasbord of menus is available to selection here: you could have the 5-course executive set dinner for $40, or a 3-course, 4-course, or 5-course dinner (where you can choose anything on the menu) for $50, $60 or $70 respectively, or you could limit yourself to an a la carte option. I've ordered the 3-course menu twice, and I also watched as some friends devoured the executive set dinner.
The Dunearn is not a very large restaurant, so reservations are a must, especially on weekends. Due to its size, it does become a little noisy as old university friends reminisce about their college days.
The first time I was here, I opted for a 4-course dinner, while my date had the 3-course meal. This turned out not to be a very good idea, as neither of us was able to finish our main course.
I began with a flamed wagyu tataki with truffle shoyu and shallots ($16.80), which I didn't really enjoy. The truffle oil was wonderfully aromatic, but the shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) was intensely salty and sour, its tang stinging my tastebuds and overwhelming the more delicate flavour of the wagyu.
My date had the baked oysters with comte cheese and wilted spinach ($16.80), which was the start of our downfall. Four fairly large oysters were presented, and made even more filling with the addition of the melted cheese. I'm not a fan of oysters, but people who are will probably like this.
I had a bug lobster bisque ($12) next, which I quite enjoyed, though the bisque could have been further reduced in order to really develop that umami, crustacean intensity, and an extra shot of vermouth for added headiness wouldn't have hurt. For those who don't know what a bug lobster is, a picture and helpful description can be found here.
The main courses arrived, and were our eventual undoing.
The stir-fried seafood linguine with chardonnay and Japanese seaweed tossed in lobster oil, for instance, came adorned with five large prawns and four sizable scallops which, when added to the linguine, were incredibly filling. The prawns, however, were not at their freshest, and so were a little flaky rather than crunchy.
One of the chef's recommendations is the oven-seared spiced chicken with portobello mushroom, duck liver and port wine sauce ($27.80). I don't usually order chicken, as it doesn't tend to be very filling, but with three meaty chicken fillets and fleshy portobello slices, I was forced to eat my words. Skin on, the fillets were sweet and succulent, and the spring vegetables and mushroom pieces made for delicious, and hearty, eating. I did not observe any duck liver, but it is possible that it had been melted into the sauce, which was rich and luscious.
Desserts were a little disappointing, unfortunately. The warm molten chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream ($10) is usually a crowd favourite, but The Dunearn's version incorporated some white chocolate ganache in its molten centre, which had the effect of making the melted chocolate too thin and runny, causing it to flow out in a rapid stream rather than a slow, visceral ooze.
The opera cake with feuillette ($10) wasn't too bad, though one of the hazelnut or chocolate cream layers had a flavour which tasted out of place and which I didn't quite like. Also, by that time I was stuffed from the previous courses, and couldn't finish dessert.
My second visit to The Dunearn was only a few days after my first, and this time I brought friends with big appetites, who would have no problem finishing what was placed before them.
The current executive set dinner starts off with a Vietnamese rice paper spring roll filled with glass noodles and grilled kurobuta pork cheek, accompanied with a sweet honey dip. A light, almost refreshing cold starter, and an appropriate start to a big meal.
This is followed by a soup course: an oyster chowder with curry dust. This didn't gather any rave reviews, but there were no complaints either, so I gather it was an acceptable dish.
The warm appetiser is a baked salmon with tomato coulis, which is pretty failsafe: a dash of sour cream might have added a little colour and taste contrast.
I decided to have a different soup this time, and chose a the truffle-infused cep and morel mushroom soup ($9.50). This arrives with some ceps and morels in the bowl, and a thick mushroom soup is slowly poured over them. A good idea, and good presentation, but, as I have discovered through my own experiments at home, rehydrated cep and morels are not great ingredients to work with: dehydration tends to rob them of their precious aroma, while rehydration tends to cause them to emit grit and sand which, if care is not taken, can end up in whatever you are cooking. Sure enough, my mushroom soup, while more robust than some others I've tasted, lacked any olfactory hint that it contained ceps or morels, and at one point I bit down with a loud crunch on a sand crystal.
The executive menu offers you a choice of three main courses: a braised lamb shank infused with cep mushrooms and served with seasonal vegetables, a duo of poached threadfin and seared scallop with roasted baby carrots and ginger cream, and a grilled Australian sirloin with truffle red wine glaze on a bed of leek. You can't tell from the awful photo, but that's the grilled Australian sirloin.
I had, for my main course, the masala lamb rump on a bed of ratatouille with a lamb jus reduction ($30). I found this a little tough, actually, though I had no complaints where flavour was concerned.
What really surprised me, however, was the dessert that came with the executive menu. Yuck, I had thought, when I first read "yam gateaux and mango cream with peanut royaltine", imagining some gruesome, Westernised version of a yam dumpling or taro paste. Instead, an elegant pastry presented itself, with the yam made into a sort of mousse. Having tasted some, the taste of the yam was not at all intrusive, and was instead delicately sweet, and complemented by the mango cream and the richness of the crispy peanut butter base.
The Dunearn, tucked away in a quiet corner of the Bukit Timah campus, may not serve up perfection, but its earnestness is extremely endearing, as are its attractively priced set menus. A wide variety of dishes is on offer, virtually spoiling you for choice, and giving certain value for money. Please note, however, that the restaurant does not accept cash, so you have to pay by card (unless you're a member of the NUSS Graduate Club, in which case you can probably charge it to your account), and also has a dress code which frowns upon shorts and non-collared shirts.
1F Cluny Road
Bukit Timah Guild House (NUSS Graduate Club)
Tel: +65 6586 3260