Head chef Nick Scorpion may come from Cantopop royalty (his father, William is a legendary performer), but it is the estate of Oxwell & Co. that he lords over. From his mod-British establishment’s snug corner on Ann Siang Hill, Scorpion commands freshness, reigns supreme over classic comfort food with his new menu, and wields modern flair in a tri-floor terroir that ranges from bar snacks to Sunday roasts.
The (shop)house of Oxwell is a level up from the ubiquitous schizophrenic Western joint. Delving into Scorpion’s cooking feels like noshing in London’s new generation casual dining scene, one in which fish and chips serve a higher purpose than just mopping up last night’s hangover.
To get to the heart and soul of the chef’s kitchen, start from bottom: Oxwell’s 5-foot way-facing bar, where the first order of the day is to hydrate with bar wunderkind Luke Whearty’s house-distilled Gin & Chronic. Tapped for the ultimate fizzy freshness, the game changer is the infusion of clove and nutmeg, a paean to the neighbourhood’s former life as a spice plantation.
The scene is convivial teetering on raucous, but nothing that will distract from the intense fun of when Scorpion’s pork scratchings and crispy corn hit your tongue. There’s something magical about traditionally greasy morsels unexpectedly fluttering like snowflakes in the mouth, so delicately prepared and laced with spices that they remain interesting long after they’ve disappeared down the oesophagus.
Up the sliver of a winding staircase, the 35-seat dining room is a sunshine magnet during the day and an atmospheric salon after dark (Instagrammers: the neon on the walls will cast strange glows on the food). Both settings adroitly personify Scorpion’s dishes, which tap dance a glorious chorus line between simplicity and surrealism. The Packham pear and Colston Basset Stilton brightly chirps Blighty, but the steak tartare will charge at you like Roy Keane. Here, tri-tip is more roughly hewn as fresh horseradish adds machismo, yet it’s velvety and buttery, with a dollop of egg yolk purée on the side to dip as you wish, a fun if less dramatic ritual from the usual raw yolk mixing.
Indonesian seabass delivered daily constructs the fish and chips, part of Scorpion’s karmic sensibility to not use ingredients from too far away but also a smart move that ensures juicy, yielding flakes under a lightly crisp batter. But the showstopper – the one that incites an awed hush across the table followed by buzzy murmurs – is the Cape Grim porterhouse, a medium rare, red-blooded star attraction that makes no bones about flaunting how rich, wholesome and lush it is from the tenderloin to the strip.
Porterhouses are great for carnivores who want it all, and this serving is sliced by the slab in a way that lets you enjoy both meat and glistening aromatic fat, perfumed by the bone-in broil. Don’t be alarmed if you’re gnashing at your inner cheeks later in bed, trying to reclaim each singular taste of that meatopia.
The third floor parlour is reserved for private bookings, adorned with custom oil paintings, wall-mounted stag’s head and other emblems of British eccentricities for anyone looking to channel some Sherlock. Let’s just say you might want to give some of these decorations more than a cursory glance and yes, anyone who’s tried to surreptitiously bring home one of the stuffed squirrels has been tracked down.
It seems only elementary to settle into a luxuriant leather armchair with chocolate mousse doughnut in one hand and a diabolical Whearty concoction (try the Chocolate Peanut: Adelaide Hills red blend infused with raw cacao and fresh vanilla) in the other – that’s code for Never Want To Get Up And Leave.
If you find yourself on the rooftop, a not-so-secret garden of herbs and plants that feature in many Oxwell dishes and drinks, the dazzling Singapore skyline will loom over you, rising from a soundtrack of vibrant street bustle. It’ll dawn upon you that Oxwell might have been born from the desire of a few British friends wanting a piece of home away from home, but the truth is that everything it offers feels exactly like home, on this Brit-founded island 10,000 kilometres away from the mother isle.