One Night Only: If not played right
I must admit to feeling quite confused when first hearing of One Night Only. What the hell does that mean? A One Night Only drunken affair that I'd wanna forget the moment it's over? One Night (in Beijing but not in Beijing) Only? Dude you got me confused as hell.
No points to guessing what started my initial obsession with this spot.
It was after quite a bit of Googling that I found out the origins of this odd name. So the owners, also the peeps behind Muchachos and The Daily Cut, in doing their research in America for this American-style diner, stayed for one night only at each of the towns they visited on this road trip. "Ahhhhhhhh", I hear; you're not the only ones to have that cleared up!
Knowing that increased my anticipation to visit this joint. A classic American diner: what else would you be expecting but the unapologetically greasy, trucker-style/massive-portioned/artery-clogging comfort cuisine that Guy Fieri so champions? Patties blackened with carcinogenic burnt bits, chicken that's been fried deep-fried and re-fried, pancakes sloshing in high fructose corn 'maple' syrups — ahhhhhhhh.
With that much expectations to live up to, One Night Only could only go two ways: very good, or very bad.
Very bad was how it started.
Food aside, what makes an American diner so iconic, traditional, and quintessentially American is also its space and ambience. I have fond memories from my odd month in America of standalone establishments with hugeass (not necessarily neon) signs, booth seats with squishy (fake) leather-bound cushions, lots of steel, and grubby spaces that generally look old even if it's faux-old.
One peek into One Night Only and you'll find that's not what they seem to be going after. Gaudy curtains they've got. But the blues, woods, even the random steel structure somehow reminiscent of SPRMRKT are way too contemporary for the classic American diner.
Malted Vanilla Milkshake (S$11.25++)
To top that all of, what, to me, is borderline offensive, was the lack of an overwhelming fragrance of greasy grilled bacon. That mouth-watering smell that first hits you when you open the doors of a diner's so important I found myself mildly annoyed it was absent.
Then again, neither was there any aroma of freshly-roasted coffee. That's strong, muddy, American brewed black coffee mind you, and none of the third wave coffee kinda carefully calibrated espressos. Those that come right of a pot, are honest-to-God shitty as hell, often burnt and steaming hot, but are so strong you're bound to stay awake for the rest of the day. In place of that deeply-rooted American diner tradition is a Drip Brew (S$3.75++) instead, also on free-flow (thank goodness they've got that right) though infinitely incomparable IMHO.
On that count I'd much rather you go for a milkshake. It's basic, sludgy, really malty, delicious. Really all that it needs to be. And trust me when I say that you'd need some of that to get you through some of their dishes.
Buffalo Wings (S$7.50++)
For all that's good in this world, buffalo wings are supposed to be tangy, buttery, spicy, and crispy. Period. These mid-wings, tangy as they may be, weren't spicy, buttery, or crispy in the slightest, and definitely not finger lickin' good. Oddly these seem to have shrunk quite a bit, and as a result were quite dry and tough. As far as American portions go, this barely feeds an infant.
Chicken-Fried Steak (S$21++) — with two sides of your choice
Fortunately good sense seemed to kick in after. Their Chicken-Fried Steak for one was downright massive and would surely fill even the hungriest NS boy on his first day out of camp. Frying a good cut of steak — a wagyu topside here — may seem blasphemous to some, but it is quite an authentic American diner dish and I was super glad to see it on the menu! But what came between me and my love for this dish, was the insanely thick, biscuit-like breading with a 3:1 ratio to meat. Ripping those apart left me with just a thin slice of meat which, tender as it may be, was severely under-seasoned. Gravy may have been it's only saving grace, but that little pool of gravy was way too little to last past the first few bites.
We chose their Southern Cornbread and Coleslaw as our sides, the former of which was buttery, moist (if not overly wet) and soft-crumbed, and the latter simply passable.
No-Frills Cheeseburger (single patty for S$13++/double patty for S$18++) — comes with french fries
If you like large chunks of gamey meat, coarsely diced, loosely packed, barely seasoned, and at 100% doneness: you'd enjoy this. Well we don't, so this burger was quite a letdown. Gardenia-like buns were well-toasted but dry, and when we thought cheese'd solve all problems...we were proven wrong. What looked like a fountain of melty, luscious cheese, was actually a sauce suspiciously like a Thousand Island dressing. So instead of moist, juicy bites, what we got was bland, chewy meat that fell apart with every mouthful, drenched in an overdose of commercial-tasting sauce.
Maple Bacon Pancakes (S$12++)
I have to be frank with you: I was this close to putting down my fork and just walking out right there and then. I couldn't understand how a concept so promising could turn out so disastrous.
Then these pancakes came. Since all hope was lost, why not just dig in and y'know disappoint myself further eh? Well slap me and call me Susan, cause these pancakes went above and beyond my expectations. It's so so fluffy — just look at how nicely thick these stacks are — and boasts a nice, chewy, gluten-y kinda texture. Before these I consider Clinton St.'s rendition one of the best out there, but One Night Only now takes the top spot and, I'm not afraid to say, haunts my brunch dreams. These gluten-y stacks are perfect for soaking and mopping up syrup, complete with globs of (DIY salted) butter. Do yourself a favour and order these plain, with some of their daily homemade Jam of the Week (S$1.50++). Much better considering the pathetic amount of bacon served in their Maple Bacon Pancakes.
Their Brioche French Toast (S$10.50++) also makes a breakfast for champs if I may say. Two slices of plain ol' fluffy brioche, more American than French, dusted with icing sugar and served with syrup. So unadorned yet so good.
Nashville Hot Chicken (S$16.50++) — with two sides of your choice
Then it got even better with this spicy fried chicken sealing the deal. 2 pieces of chicken, pick your cuts, first tenderised in a buttermilk brine, then dredged in flour with herbs and spices and deep-fried to a golden perfection. The aggressive seasoning works wonders here, resulting in meat so flavourful it puts their burger to shame. I got a drum and a thigh, and I must say these are by far the most tender, moist, and mind-blowingly juicy fried chicken I've ever tasted. Don't overlook the sides either: their simple American Mac & Cheese (done loads-of-cream-style) and flaky and fluffy Biscuits & Gravy were commendable.
Half of our meal being terrible, the other half better than I expected, and having discovered my favourite pancakes, suffice to say that this won't be a one-night-only affair. Great thing about the bunch behind One Night Only is how receptive they are to feedback. After my initial comments on their Chicken-Fried Steak, they reached out privately to explain how the kitchen was still tweaking the recipe and that they'd continue to take in feedback and hope to improve. With that kind of attitude, you bet I'm not crossing them off my list yet. One advice? Stick to the classic American diner experience and try to recreate that in the space as well — it does wonders for when the food fails. Oh and also, invest in more ergonomically friendly plates please?
One Night Only
397 River Valley Road
Tuesdays to Fridays: 12pm-10pm
Closed on Monday