Officially stepping into the working world creates a huge paradox for a foodie like me: I now have more funds to sustain this costly hobby, but close to no time to spend any of it. So weekends are now pre-planned and packed down to the very minute, in fruitless hopes to cover the gazillion eateries in this teeny island. To make the most of these days, cafes are meticulously screened across social media, food apps and reviews — so imagine our disappointment when that selected spot turned out less than satisfactory.
Hindsight being the ultimate bitch, we should’ve known better than to hedge our bets on the whims of social media. Like others of its kind before, our experience at Ninja Bowl was unimpressive, and middling at best.
Ninja Bowl is the third F&B venture of former Power 98FM DJ Darren Wee, whose company, The Astronaut Group, is behind Chillax Café at Serangoon Gardens and Babette at Tyrwhitt Road. His newest endeavour centers on, as the name suggests, rice bowls with a distinct Japanese twist — think teriyaki sauces, furikake, and proteins like grilled unagi and aburi chashu. An all-day brunch menu, with a similar Japanese take, is also available daily.
Iced Long black ($6), & Coconut Lemon Mint (S$8)
We were surprised to find Ninja Bowl retaining most of DOC’s decor; while it's certainly warm and pleasing enough, there wasn't any identity — nothing related to ninjas or Japanese influences for that matter — and really screams a lack of effort. The saying "Why fix it if it ain't broken?" just doesn't cut it for me.
But anything goes if the food's good right? We started our brunch with a couple of drinks. Essentially coconut juice and its flesh, served with a squeeze of lemon and garnished with mint, the Coconut Lemon Mint's a refreshing drink that's perfect after the long hike up Duxton. Pricey for such plain ingredients, but delicious nonetheless. Caffeine addicts would find that Ninja Bowl makes a pretty decent cuppa too. Made with beans from Smitten Coffee, half Brazilian and half Columbian, the iced long black we had was of both medium body and acidity.
Noka (S$14) — 24-hour braised beef cheek, baby corn, Korean beansprouts, mixed nuts, onsen egg, semi-fried tomatoes
Of their signature bowls, do note that all the bowl options come without grains: you’d be paying the stated prices for the described ingredients, which you can then add quinoa, rice, orzo, or greens to for an additional price. Of the 8 bowl options, we got the Noka with quinoa (+S$3). Definitely a wrong choice, cause the bowl was a mess. The quinoa was bland and under-seasoned; the braised beef, though moist, had an intensely unappealing beefy taste; the baby corn looked boiled and unappetizing; and where were the tomatoes?
Tokyo Superfood (S$19) — Garlic-fried quinoa, tuna tataki, cauliflower pops, shimeji mushrooms, corn kernels, fried egg
Our second bowl wasn’t much better. We were expecting something akin to the incredibly smokey and fragrant Japanese teppanyaki garlic fried rice — what we got instead was miles apart. Wet, bland, and laced with boiled corn kernels, there was nothing garlicky nor fried about the quinoa. Points to the lovely sear on the tuna, but the ‘tataki’ was neither seasoned nor marinated, and was really just plain seared tuna.
Gyu & Tama (S$17) — Mushroom-scrambled eggs, semi-dried tomatoes, 24-hour braised beef cheek, toast
Our hopes for the unique brunch items faltered with this dish: visually, it was a flop from the start. The scrambled eggs looked watery, lumpy, discoloured, and very unappetizing. Taste-wise it didn’t fare much better. The sliced mushrooms tasted raw and grassy, the eggs were mushy and overcooked, and there was barely any seasoning. With the braised beef as unappealing, we left most of the dish untouched.
Fancy French (S$16) — Fig jam French toast drizzled in ume-boshi infused honey, fresh grapes, plums, homemade hazelnut butter
Fortunately for Ninja Bowl (and us), this fantastic, drool-worthy French toast was the only saving grace of our meal. The toast itself is exemplary: charred and crisp on the outside, moist, wet, and buttery on the inside. It doesn’t stop there — the flavours too were stellar, and perfect for those with an aching sweet tooth. We especially liked how the fresh fruits, figs especially, were slightly under-riped and tart, adding both a lovely crunch and contrasting flavour to the dessert dish. Our few little peeves: the pickled-plum honey tasted more like infused sugar syrup, and the toast was overly moist on the insides, lacking that fluffy cloud-like sponge that would’ve made it fantastic.
In the 45-odd minutes we spent there, it was clear from the continuous stream of crowd that we aren’t the only ones social media’s roped in. While it may be a tad immature to dismiss them after just one visit, with cheaper options like Grain Traders and newly-opened Sprout around, we’re unlikely to make a trip down anytime soon.
15 Duxton Road