The narrow alley at the back of Gemmill Lane and Amoy Street is an open-secret among gourmands. Out of sight, restaurants have mushroomed around the area: first with Maggie Joan’s and its sister café, Gemmills, Burger Joint and Le Binchotan.
Here’s a quick tip to finding the spot: come through Club Street to Gemmill Lane. The route meanders around Luke’s Oyster Bar & Chop House and the ‘STOP’ sign ahead is the welcome banner to the quaint enclave. It’s a relatively quiet location away from busier neighbouring streets.
Despite its unusual location, Maggie Joan’s has seen many packed nights since its conception three years ago – surely a testimony to a very dedicated base of regulars. Behind its gritty metal door are dim lights and exposed-brick walls that makes for a snug and enchanting space with a Mediterranean vibe.
However, Mediterranean is no longer what Maggie Joan’s is about. Instead, it has made course for modern European cuisine with a new chef behind the steering wheel.
New head chef Seumas Smith now favours a more refined, bistronomy approach to the menu at Maggie Joan’s. The 26-year-old, who had cut his teeth at upscale establishments such as two Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston in London, previously led the kitchen at the more casual sister restaurant Moosehead just across the street.
With the young chef’s pedigree, the more formal dining set-up offered at Maggie Joan’s seems a much better fit. Smith also showcases flexibility he finds comfortable balance between refinement and conviviality.
That contrast finds itself between courses, and in dishes. There’s a rustic sourdough served with French butter generously churned with copious amounts of smoked beef fat renderings. It calls for a violent ravishing of butter with chunks of bread, but restraint sets in when the dainty bites come. Atop a delicate rice cracker are pearls of ikura, crème fraiche, dill emulsion and gentle dustings of yuzu shimichi for heat. In another, shiso leaves are lightly deep-fried and dotted taramasalata.
It continues on to entrees. Hokkaido scallops are pan-fried, presented in a shell and comes richly dressed in miso beurre blanc, crunchy fried Russet potatoes and Kristal caviar. It requires careful maneuvering to get every bit of seafood and sauce in each bite, but there’s extra sauce left to savour and we’re all left happy. Then there’s barbecued beetroot covered in raddichio and endive leaves; it’s bitterness finds companionship with sweet candied walnuts and a floral Scottish heather honey that’s burnt over the stove.
Mains welcome a thorough presentation of seasonal ingredients. Duck breast, pan-fried and oven-roasted till medium rare, is served with roasted carrots and a mash of just carrot – an impossibly sweet puree that reminds us all why the obsession over following seasons for produce.
Desserts prove a simpler affair: a homely bowl of blackberry puree with yoghurt sorbet spiced with cardamom, meringue and shiso. But wait for the cigar box: a little treasure chest of salted caramel sables and raspberry feuilletines resting on a bed of cacao nibs.
We certainly miss the Mediterranean days of Maggie Joan’s. But there’s much more to be excited about the restaurant with Smith on the reins.
Mondays – Fridays: 12 pm – 2.30 pm, 6 pm – 11 pm
Saturdays: 6 pm – 11 pm
Recommended dishes: Tempura shiso leaves, Hokkaido scallops, Duck breast
Price: $75 ++
Noise Level: Medium