Free Bread. 2 words that really summed up Cafe Cartel 4 years ago.
When they first came to Singapore from the likes of New York City many years ago, this franchised American-Italian cafe known for its Pork Ribs, expanded in Singapore very quickly. But today, it is a different story. Their popularity started to slip and branches in many big malls like Tampines Mall and 112 Katong all came and went. Many blames this on the slipping standards of the food, like their tuna salad which shrank rather drastically, and their lack of free bread at the counter that you would slice yourself.
Today, if you would peek into a Cafe Cartel even in a busy shopping mall at mealtimes, it would be rather empty, most of its customers would be students looking for a cheap, quick bite.
One of Cafe Cartel’s longest surviving branches would be in Siglap, next to Siglap mall. This was the branch me and my family often visited years ago. I used to love their lasagne, it was heavily loaded with cheese and a thick tomato sauce, which of course appealed to a younger version of me. My Dad used to love it too, just munching on a generous Tuna Salad and free bread. But soon, as the salad shrank and the free bread disappeared, we stopped going there.
Yesterday, while wandering around in Siglap on a Saturday night for a place to eat dinner, (Siglap by the way, now has a lot of dining options) we walked past Cafe Cartel, and we decided to give it a go.
Walking in, I noticed a rather empty restaurant with only a few families and a couple. Up front, there was just a single waitress waiting on the whole dining room, and a man behind the bar, handling drinks amd payments. The Cafe Cartel had undergone a face-lift from the last time we were here to a more sleek diner look.
As I browsed the menu, hoping to have my old favourite Lasagne, I was rather disappointed when I saw a ‘Not Available’ sticker over the lasagne (the best one I have tasted recently is from peperoni). I was tempted to order their famous pork ribs, but instead chose a different speciality of theirs, Hawaiian Pork Chop (my dad ordered the same thing, lol). Water and Tomato sauce were all self service.
We started off with a garlic bread appetiser ($1.20). It was thick and lightly toasted baguette with a sort of garlic herb butter smeared on top. I would have preferred a more heavier toast on the bread and a stronger garlic smell and taste.
We also had the Chef’s Chicken salad ($14.80). Lacking a form of dressing, the salad and sort of ‘deconstructed’ and wasn’t mixed which was a bit annoying as I believe a salad should be mixed, so when you stick your fork into a mixed salad, you should get a bit of everything. Nevertheless, the salad was just ok, nothing to shout about.
Me and my Dad had one of the speciality, the Hawaiian Pork Chop ($18.50). The pork chop itself was slightly dry, but it was cooked bone-in, so it was quite flavourful. The pineapple slices on top were sweet, but they were clearly canned which was disappointing. I of course would have preferred them to be fresh and slightly grilled. The french fries also were questionable, tasted slightly like McDonald’s one. That is the problem with many small restaurants and cafes. Why can’t they prepare they own freshly fried potatoes? Is it really that hard?
My Mom had the Tom Yam flavoured Seafood Spaghetti ($17.60). It was served on a hot plate, which was a bit weird for a Spaghetti. It was personally, too spicy and it therefore killed the natural sweetness of the seafood.
In conclusion, Cafe Cartel has started its long and agonising slow death of its branches, I do feel sorry for them. But, their food is clearly a mere shadow of its former glory. However, they are not a lost cause. If the ‘upstairs’ management bangs their heads together and bulk up in their
food standards, Cafe Cartel could be revived to their former glory. I personally hope that happens as I did grow up eating there.
The Cafe Cartel
907 East Coast Road #01-02