Think hostel food, and peanut butter and white bread comes to mind – that ubiquitous but functional breakfast that one shoves down before running toward brighter culinary prospects in town. At COO, possibly the world’s first “sociatel”, food is certainly not an afterthought.
Its all-day bistro eschews the Edison light bulbs and distressed wood that plagues cafes these days, defining its own version of hipster with jet black walls, Tiong bahru-inspired street art and neon ceiling fixtures. Its menu boasts sauces and dips “coo-made from scratch”, food that’s “hearty and familiar”, yet “captivating and surprising”. Already, it feels like a tall order to fulfil, even before ordering.
But when the plates start to arrive, it’s one of those lovely feelings of bliss, when promises are made good. The Tiong Bahru Platter ($28) is outstanding. Grilled satay with a thick spread of rich peanut sauce redolent of lemongrass; crisp pork belly with just the right amount of salted egg yolk edge; tender salt-and-pepper barramundi, whose combination of lime and salt sends welcome tingles on the palate; mackerel keropok served with a kick-ass sambal chilli. The surfboard of “best-ofs” spells effort and technique in equal measure, an outrageously under-priced conversation-starter amongst foreign guests no less.
It would have been effortless to throw in a couple of mac-and-cheese and carbonaras, but it would also have felt completely at odds with COO’s local DNA. Rather, its pastas convey that same sense of place you’ll find in its rooms and décor. Its rendition of Prawn Fettucine ($18) is high on the spicy meter, inexplicably reminiscent of the flavours of tze char Hokkien Prawn Noodles. One can’t stop slurping its Pork Cheek Capellini ($18) too, slippery from an oyster sauce-heavy gravy and a runny whole egg – it conjures again an Asian familiarity that won’t go overboard with the play-safe ang moh palate.
And of course, Chwee Kuey being synonymous with Tiong Bahru, COO has to have its own (somewhat cheeky) version ($9). It comes as a panna cotta dessert served in in exactly the silver moulds that the rice cakes are steamed in, topped with candied walnut playing the role of preserved radish and balsamic strawberries cast as the alter ego of chilli sauce. It’s a laudable version, though it must be said that its one-note texture barely sustains interest beyond the first few nibbles.
There is no doubt that owner Silas Lee has put in quite a lot of heart and soul in the hostel, and its food certainly measures up. We’re sure to return to taste more of COO’s menu, but we thought to quickly share first-hand this un-stuffy yet contemporary, premium yet affordable option away from the overly-hyped core of Tiong Bahru. It’s an experience that may overturn your pre-conceptions of what a hostel stands for.
COO Bistro is located at 259 Outram Road, Singapore 169056, p. 6221 7060. Open Mon, Wed-Sat 11am – 10pm, Sun 10am – 5pm.