Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Well-oiled Burnt Ends Singapore

Burnt Ends was constantly mentioned as a hot new Singapore restaurant in recent times and came highly recommended by a few of my friends, so I went to try on my second evening in town.

I made it to the restaurant slightly after 7pm and found the place to be jam-packed already, with all but one seat left in the place that could accomodate 18 diners. They only accepted reservations for early dinner seatings (6 or 6:30pm) but apparently that didn't deter diners from fetching up all slots even on a random weekday like today. The place reminded me of Ronin in Hong Kong a lot actually, with the narrow dining space, dark and rustic decor, plus counter-only seating, up to and including the fact that I was seated facing directly to the wall, just like our last Ronin visit. Most of the other seats were at the counter facing the open kitchen and bar right behind me with full views of all actions led by Australian Chef Dave Pynt. They also had one table that could seat 6 at the back for a bigger group.

The kitchen - took up more than half the space of the restaurant - looks like a furnace with a custom-made oven hand-built by Chef Dave's team that could go to over 800C with flames from wood fire soaring through the chimney above all evening long, and next to it was a set of three charcoal grills with wheels and pulleys that could move the cooking surface up and down for the some "lighter" cooking and final searing of the meats.

I was in no hurry to rush off so I ordered my drink while slowly studying the menu which changes daily. I don't know why it's called "Crazy" Old-fashioned but it's barrel-aged and tasted good with that right combination of sweetness and bitterness. They also have a pretty decent wine list - but not a lot of choices by glass though. Their food menu was designed more for sharing for 2 to 3 people each in tapas portion. That means I couldn't "sweep" the menu by myself even though there were way too many interesting items I wanna try, but I think ended up ordering enough food that could have easily fed 2 people (and somehow managed to finish them all quite effortlessly)

I started with the smoked quail eggs, and 2 surprises as the dish was arrived. First there was 5 cute little eggs sitting in a bowl - I was expecting more like 2 served in a fancy spoon so I got more than what I expected. Second was the subtle-ness of the smoky flavor - it's more like a slight touch for afterthought than being the main focus, which works better with the small quail eggs. They were delicious with a runny yolk inside and that little grain of salt coming through in my last bite was an amazing touch. They also offered a caviar option which I could imagine would be as delicious too with that addition dimension of flavor.

Next up was a cold appetizer with kingfish carpaccio, mango and pepperonia. I didn't come to know what pepperonia is until I went home and googled - it's actually the herbs that sat on top of threads of young mango and thinly sliced cured fish with sesame shoyu dressing. Not a lot of surprises in this one but it's on par of expectation of a good ceviche-type dish. I needed something refreshing to counter the heavy meal and this one did exactly that.

I originally didn't order my third appetizer, but when I saw many people around me ordered the dish so I asked to add that in. On the menu it said "Squid, Bacon and Scallions", and it's presented as the whole squid, grilled, sliced and placed on top of some black sauce which made of burnt scallions with bits of bacon. In all fairness I think the dish was fine as is - squid was tender, sauce was flavorful with a hint of pickle flavor somewhere, but I personally liked the squid to be more grilled to give more a charred taste, and I kept feeling something was missing in the dish - perhaps some starch or stuffing? or something sweet? or even like a burnt corn salsa? I guess I was looking for something to give the dish some contrast in tastes or textures to make it more balanced and interesting.

Burnt Ends' Sanger, which came after the squid, was one of the few regular items on the menu, and while it's listed as appetizer, it's easily a main course for one person. Pulled pork shoulder, coleslaw, chipotle aioli and brioche. I think this is one dish you wouldn't want to leave this place without ordering - this was seriously one of the best burgers I have ever had with perfect everything!

As you would expect from a BBQ joint, most main course choices were meat, except the gigantic king crab leg which was done on the grill and finished with a garlic butter sauce. I myself went for the rump cap - the back cut, looking past the more tender cut such as the wagyu sirloin or the dry-aged rib, which were both available as well. The steak was priced by weight so I chose a smaller portion of around 170g or 6oz - I needed to save myself for desserts after 4 appetizer dishes.

The dish was served with a small size of arugula and onion salad, a dark burnt onion puree and bits of bone marrows on top of the sliced steak. It's well-seared with a charred crust on the outside, and the inside remains pinkish, juicy and cooked just right - bravo to the perfect control of cooking temperature. The meat itself was rich and with good, strong flavor, something you would expect from a firmer cut like a rump cap (which was perfect for the grill by the way) and actually I found it quite tender as I put my knife down against the grain. The bone marrow adds in the fatty taste to the trimmed meat, and the burnt onions gave that caramelized sweetness with some rustic smokiness.

Not a lot of dessert choices for the night and I went for grilled pineapples, with an addictive rum-molasses sauce and vanilla icecream completed with toasted pistachio and a thin slice of dried pineapples on top. Simple but decadent. I was told I shouldn't leave without trying the marshmallow, which came as small piece served on a skewer. It's toasted; rather, well burnt with a torch to a completely caramelized surface. Inside it was soft with the texture at the core almost like gummy bears, and with a taste of cinnamon and orange peel, giving it an interesting bitterness. This was a well-made and well-cooked marshmallow - all for only SGD$2 a pop! What a steal.

Though I am not a big fan of my seat - chair was tight, uncomfortable, got no privacy; table narrow and with no view - which certainly had a bearing on my dining experience, overall the service throughout the evening was actually quite nice. People were friendly and attentive, and food was delivered in proper speed and order.

With excellent food and drinks on offer, I will come back any time I have a chance, despite the not-so-comfy seats and hard-to-get tables. I have the feeling that every time I come, it will be an epic meal here - nothing overly fancy nor a place you want to be at if you happened to be on diet or are vegetarian, but the restaurant looks like a well-greased machine with that consistency and finesse day in, day out. I just wish we have something like this in Hong Kong. 

More pictures in my Flickr page:

When? January 8 2015
Where? Burnt Ends Singapore, 20 Teck Lim Road, Singapore
Menu Highlights? Burnt Ends' Sanger

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