Café Cartel is a small café located on the first floor of Raffles city right at the city hall MRT exit. Despite being called a Café, Café Cartel is in fact a full-fledged dine-in restaurant complete with a full American western menu. Their trademark main dish will be their St Louis pork ribs, which are served by the rack glazed with barbeque sauce and topped off with sides of fries and salad.
Their trademarked St Louis style pork ribs goes about the traditional preparation process, which involves cutting away the hard breastbone and chewy cartilage, so the rib slab are more rectangular to fit on a plate. The ribs are usually grilled with direct heat rather than slow-cooked over indirect heat, giving the ribs their rather distinct grill mark patterns and a slightly burnt after-taste. The barbecue sauced is prepared from a tomato based sauce which is both sticky and sweet. A typical meal at Café Cartel costs about $40-50 SGD on average inclusive of desert, GST and service charge, which is still affordable for a rather filling affair, perfect for a full dinner.
The restaurant ambience is cozy, brightly lit and lively with rather friendly staff, service is also good. The cooked ribs are very tender and soft, but it still loses out to the offerings of Tony Roma’s, where their ribs are juicier (but slightly pricier), with more taste locked into the meat, and sweeter to my taste, possibly due to a more through marinating process. All main courses get a free-flow of bread, which you can self-replenish from a central bread counter; the bread goes well with the soup of the day and the sauces on the ribs.
A highly recommended desert after your main meal will be their New York Cheesecake, which is also renowned to sell out when they were first offered with endless queues. The desert is your typical cold cheesecake with sweet double whipped body and a crusty cookie-dough bottom base.
Café Cartel is known to be packed, with long queues forming especially on weekends. But weekdays are good for a casual dinner without too much a crowd. Nice for a hearty meal in the heart of the city.