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Review: NOOK by Platinum

AMEX has taken the wraps off NOOK by Platinum, its members-only lounge for Platinum Charge and Centurion cardholders. Here's what you can expect when visiting.

American Express has officially launched NOOK by Platinum, a pop-up lounge for Platinum Charge and Centurion cardholders that replaces the old Platinum VIBES.

To mark the launch, a “5 Michelin Stars” Four Hands Dinner featuring 3-star Alvin Leung and 2-star Hendrick Otto (the math works out, I’ve checked) was held last weekend. Platinum Charge cardholders paid a subsidized rate of S$120 nett per person, which felt like good value given the quality of the food and drink on offer (full wine pairing, Dom Perignon 2008/2009, and tastings of two S$500+ bottles of wine). 

For those of you who missed the festivities, here’s what you need to know about NOOK.

Opening Hours & Access Rules

NOOK is open from 12 p.m to 12 a.m daily, and its lease runs until 30 April 2020. That gives you just over four months to visit, but American Express may extend the lease at their discretion, just like they did with VIBES.

Access to NOOK is complimentary for basic and supplementary Centurion and Platinum Charge cardholders. The T&Cs officially state that access is for Singapore-issued cards only, although if VIBES was anything to go by, foreign-issued cardholders will be accepted on a case-by-case basis.

Cardholders are allowed to bring guests at no additional charge. The exact number is not stated, but I assume NOOK will apply common sense policies here- fewer guests during peak periods, more during lulls.

Getting There

VIBES’s location on Keppel Bay Island was a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the seclusion made for a private and quiet getaway. On the other, it required a lengthy journey down, and wasn’t the kind of place you could pop into for a quick drink.

NOOK is comparatively much more accessible. It’s located inside 15 Stamford by Alvin Leung at The Capitol Kempinski Hotel, directly connected to City Hall MRT via Exit D.

If you’re coming by MRT, look for signs for the Arcade @ The Capitol Kempinski. You’ll head up a series of escalators to a bright open atrium on the ground floor with many restaurants (and a Christmas market this time of year).

Head down the corridor and exit to the driveway of The Capitol Kempinski Hotel.

Enter the hotel…

…turn left and head down the passageway.

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You’re now at the entrance of 15 Stamford. Depending on the time, there may or may not be a hostess at reception.

If there is, she’ll escort you to NOOK. If not, just head straight into the restaurant, passing the bar area on your right…

…and at the end you’ll find the entrance to NOOK.

If you’re driving, free parking at The Capitol Kempinski Hotel is available with a minimum spend of S$50 at NOOK and/or 15 Stamford.

NOOK Overview

The first thing you’ll notice about NOOK is that the name isn’t a misnomer- it’s at most a quarter the size of VIBES, having traded accessibility for space. Instead of a sprawling lounge layout, expect cozy and intimate surroundings with dark finishes and carpeted floors. Despite the dark tones, you still enjoy natural light coming in from four sets of full height windows.

There are a total of 30 seats inside NOOK (including sofa space). Most of the tables here are coffee table height, which means they’re not particularly good for extended periods of sitting and working. I have to believe this was a deliberate design choice, lest NOOK be turned into a temporary co-working space.

However, there are four regular height tables with very comfortable chairs that offer good back support. These are options for serious work; in fact, I wrote part of this review sitting on one of them. They look out to Hill Street, but you can request the staff to lower the day blinds if you prefer some privacy.

NOOK doesn’t have its own Wi-Fi network, but guests can ask the staff for a passcode to use Kempinski’s. Wi-Fi speeds are decent and good enough for video streaming:

NOOK feels part wine cellar part reading room, with wine bottles on one side and book shelves on the other. The library is stocked with both fiction and non-fiction titles, and members are invited to help themselves to whatever tickles their fancy.

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The selection isn’t just stuffy business tomes. Amongst the selection you’ll find novels, biographies, brainteasers, self-improvement, pulp fiction, even comics and the occasional graphic novel.

For those feeling slightly more sociable, a small selection of board and card games is available. Thankfully, they’ve not gone down the boring Monopoly/Scrabble route. There’s a poker game, two trivia sets and a Sherlock Holmes Puzzle Case, which unfortunately scores poorly on BoardGameGeek. 

One of my first concerns upon seeing NOOK was its smaller size yet greater accessibility (compared to VIBES)- a double whammy for overcrowding problems. Management seems to be aware of this potential issue, and has provided a spillover area outside NOOK with a further 10 seats in a semi-private corner of the restaurant.

 

In the evenings when it’s cooler, you can also opt to be seated in an al fresco area just outside.

NOOK is still relatively new, and perhaps word about its opening hasn’t gotten out yet (you’d be surprised, but the vast majority of cardholders don’t actively take note of such developments). It’s been absolutely deserted on the two weekday afternoons I’ve visited so far, but I’ve not had a chance to see the evening rush (if any). If you have, do sound out in the comments below about the crowding situation.

Food Options

NOOK offers a lunch service from 12-3 p.m, and dinner service from 6-10.30 p.m. The lunch & dinner menu is provided by 15 Stamford, which is part of the Love Dining program. Platinum cardholders can get up to 50% off (when dining as a couple) with a minimum of two main courses ordered from the wood-grill and Asian favourites sections.

Excerpt from 15 Stamford Menu | Click here for full version

Outside these hours, NOOK offers a smaller all-day menu. No Love Dining privileges apply to this, unfortunately.

Snacks
Spiced Cashew- S$6
Soy sauce, Curry, Garam Masala
Starter
Fried Oyster ‘Martini’- S$14
Lychee, Vodka, Salicornia, Sea Water
Baked Oyster ‘Gratin’ 3 Pieces- S$30
Morning Glory, Cheddar Cream, Spiced Pollock
Fried Cornmeal- S$12
Brie De Meaux
Charcuterie & Burratina- S$48
Jamon Iberico De Bellota, Bayonne Ham, Iberian Chorizo, Bresaola
Salmon Gravlax- S$18
Fennel Pernod Cream, Salted Lime
Entree
Beef Short Rib- S$26
Kyuri Cucumber, Seasame, Scallion, Aka Miso Glaze
Pulled Beef & Foie Gras Burger- S$26
Yuzu Cabbage Slaw, Rendang Sauce
Prawn Casserole- S$24
Iberian Chorizo, Piment d’Espelette, Tomato Coulis, Brioche
Israeli Cous Cous- S$24
Hokkaido Scallop, Laksa Cream
Chicken Breast Capellini- S$22
Green Curry Sauce, Red Onion, Coriander
Artisan Cheese Plate- S$28
Honeycomb, Muscatel, Quince Paste, Lavash, Grissini
Dessert
Blueberry Cheese Mousse-S$12
Lemon Curd, Meringue
Yuzu Tart- S$10
Red Fruit Compote

The bad news for VIBES veterans is that food at NOOK is noticeably more expensive. The table below provides a quick and dirty comparison of pricing.

NOOK 
VIBES
Range Average Range Average
Snacks S$6 ~S$6 S$5-6 ~S$6
Starters S$12-48 ~S$24 S$12-20 ~S$15
Mains S$22-28 ~S$25 S$14-18 ~S$17
Desserts S$10-12 ~S$11 S$12-18 ~S$15

Of course, this says nothing about portion sizes (which were very small at VIBES) or quality of ingredients. All things equal, however, you’ll likely be shelling out more at NOOK than VIBES.

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Some of the starter options were served during the launch event, and my personal favourite was the oyster martini. Keep in mind the portions below aren’t indicative of how much is actually served when you order from the menu.

From L-R: Fried oyster martini, Salmon gravlax, Beef short rib

Fried cornmeal was also available, but I didn’t manage to get a photo. Here’s what it looks like, in case you were interested.

I haven’t had the chance to do a proper meal there, but Matthew visited earlier this week and had the Blueberry Cheese Mousse, which he declared to be “nubbad”.

Wine Options

As you might expect, the wine list at NOOK is extensive, with more than 110 bottles to choose from.

Excerpt from wine list | See full selection here

Wines and champagnes start at S$79 and S$109 a bottle, versus S$59 and S$69 at VIBES (but again you can’t really do a like-to-like comparison as the list at NOOK is very different). There are three whites, three reds and one champagne by the glass.

Cardholders are entitled to one complimentary welcome drink per visit per day, either a white or red wine (those who abstain can request for a soft drink instead).

The complimentary white is a Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2018, which retails for S$52 on RedMart.

This scores 91 points on Robert Parker (see here for a guide on what Robert Parker ratings mean).

The complimentary red is a 2016 Chateau Monlot No.3, Bordeaux Superieur. I couldn’t find any retail information for this wine, other than the winery is owned by Chinese superstar Vicki Zhao Wei.

This scores 93+ points on Robert Parker (the + sign means the reviewer believes the wine has the potential to improve over time and may warrant a higher score in future tastings)

Service was unintrusive, and no servers are actually positioned inside NOOK. That’s great if you like privacy, although it means you may need to step out to flag someone if you need assistance.

Conclusion

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NOOK by Platinum offers cardholders a convenient place to unwind in the middle of town. It’s good for small meetings, a quick drink, or just unwinding with a book. Those who have visited VIBES will note the very different feel; VIBES was the kind of place you’d go on the weekend, NOOK is the kind of place to visit after work. It’s not a better/worse question, just different (although prices at NOOK are definitely steeper than VIBES).

Be sure to pop by NOOK before 30 April 2020 to try the wines and food, and do post below if you have more experiences to share.


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