As I climbed up the stairway leading to the Freehouse, a beer joint at Boon Tat Street, I can’t help looking and laughing at the words “Stairway to Beer Heaven” painted on the steps. Another interesting bright poster had the Freehouse’s motto “No Strangers Here”!! It is true right? When you are drinking or eating at a night spot, everyone is a friend!
The Freehouse is quite a simple and laidback place with colourful wall and wooden furniture that spans over two floors. I saw 16 taps of rotating microbrews from around the world at the centerstage and an extensive list of beers and ciders from all over the world for sale.
People tend to go to a restaurant to eat not necessarily to drink but those who go to a bar usually look out for edibles. And these days discerning customers tend to be more knowledgeable when it comes to the quality of food they consume at the bar. Gone are the days when bars served salty or oily foods. Even if a customer is not hungry, he might look through the menu and find something to eat.
My purpose of going up to Freehouse was not to taste the liquor served there but to meet up with Chef Elijah Matthew of Taco Mantra. He took over the kitchen at Freehouse to provide all the snacks and food. Thirty-one year old Elijah Matthew, owner, chef and drummer runs Taco Mantra with his girlfriend Thaneswari, who is a graphic designer and wedding planner by profession. You can see her expertise in the design of the logo and collaterals except the wrapper for the burger.
Chef Elijah has been working in the food industry since he was seventeen. While he was a student, he worked at California Pizza, had a short stint at the Singapore Prison, and then at Quentins’ Eurasian restaurant. After he left Quentin’s he worked for five years in the advertising and events industry and then joined Wild Market Food & Bar. He then went full-fledged into the food industry. All along he had learnt to cook and market and had been involved in organizing events. Soon he was taking part in bazaars and in few pop-up events. Finally, he has parked himself at Freehouse, renewing the contract for yet another year. His enthusiasm and creativity are evidence!
I decided to try Ma’s Fish, an Indian-inspired tacos. As the word “Ma” clearly explains, this recipes is the chef’s mother’s recipe. A thick slice of flaky fish fillet covered with spicy masala was so perfect with a bit of tomato salsa thrown on top. My dream taco has always been a well-seasoned fish that is not overcooked and with something crunchy, something creamy, and a good balance of fiery and tangy to satisfy my craving.
When Chef Elijah told me that he served vegetarian meat tacos, I was under the impression that he was going to use mock meat and at that thought I cringed. But he served Pulled “pork” jackfruit. As a chef, I do know for a fact that unripe jackfruit has a fairly neutral taste, so it can easily take on the flavour of whatever sauce or seasoning it is paired. Surprisingly it was tasty – with a texture like pulled pork. It wasn’t meaty, but it wasn’t fruity either and I would not say it is my “favourite food” but definitely a contender.
Taco Mantra’s Lamb Burger is definitely worth trying if you like lamb. I could eat the burger with my eyes! The patty had a touch of spice and good, tasty and juicy, not overdone and packed with lamb flavour. To accompany this delicacy, it came dressed with citric tomato reduction topped with diced cucumber for that crunchy bite. Overall this burger was flavoursome and balanced.
I admit I don’t know the art of holding a burger “correctly” if there is such a thing. I usually have the burger falling apart and creating a mess. Therefore, I had to ask for my burger to be cut up.
There was one other interesting dish that I tried at Taco Mantra. The Quail Egg Sambal Fries was a change from the normal fries you get with truffle oil or melted cheese. The Chef said that the quail sambal was done the way his mother cooked at home. This was a favourite with beer drinkers who patronize Freehouse. I did find a touch of homeliness when eating the fries coated with sambal.
The menu prepared by Chef Elijah rotates every few months and some of the popular items are retained. Currently he is promoting Indian-Mexican tacos for three months. Freehouse and Taco Mantra have regulars who go there for good drinks, food and vibrations.
Taco Mantra @ Freehouse
21A Boon Tat Street
Tel: 8362 6740
(Closed on Sundays)
Monday to Thursday & Saturday: 5pm – 12am
Friday: 3pm – 12am
Nearest MRT Station: Telok Ayer or Raffles Place