A cut above the rest
AS SINGAPOREANS' tastes grow more exacting and expectations increase, several gourmet meat grocers have risen to the challenge.
If your idea of barbecues still revolves around hot dogs and chicken wings, it's about time to raise the bar. At least that's what Chris Vethaviyasar and Ruth See would like you to do - with their gourmet barbecue meat parcels.
Their new online service, Stoke, delivers organic meat packages with beef, lamb and pork from small artisan farmers whom the couple personally met during their travels. The best part? Because the meats are of high quality, there's no need to slather on a thick layer of greasy marinade to give them flavour.
Says Ms See, a 36-year-old Singapore permanent resident working in the finance industry: "People ask me what marinade they should use. I say don't put anything - no chilli or whatever. Just salt, pepper and olive oil five minutes before you cook. The meat has a natural sweetness."
Stoke currently specialises in four main organic meat products: grass-fed beef and Bultarra lamb from Australia, iberico pork from Spain and 96 per cent gluten-free pork sausages from Britain - all specifically selected to go on a barbecue pit.
"We realised over the years that we can't get certain things in Singapore and it's such a pity because this market is ready for it. There is that sense of adventure, and that ability to afford, but the options are not there," explains Ms See.
So, over the Chinese New Year weekend, they launched Stoke by publicly listing it on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter, as a way to gauge the market's demand before actually bringing in the meats. So far, they have raised about a third of their £10,000 (about S$21,000) target.
On Kickstarter, Stoke offers three parcel sizes: a basic for four to six people (about $185), a luxury parcel for six to eight (about $330) and a grande for 10 to 12 (about $495).
Each parcel contains a varied portion of Stoke's four meat products, as well as an assortment of cheese and appetisers like Spanish stuffed olives and pates. According to Ms See, if the target is met by April 1, customers can expect to receive their shipments by mid-May.
Down the road, they intend to expand their inventory to include seafood like tuna and prawns, or other cuts of meat like spare ribs or brisket - all of which are suited for the grill.
167-169 Telok Ayer Street
Open: Mon to Sat 11.45am-2pm, 5.30pm-11pm; Closed on Sun
Chef Andrew Baldus has worked in all sorts of restaurants before: Mediterranean, French and even a Japanese ramen shop that he opened with a friend.
Now, the 30-year-old from Nebraska is embarking on yet another type of cuisine: Southern American-style barbecue, and for once, it's not his cooking school training that he will be tapping on for the job.
Instead, it's his years of personal experience and expertise behind the grill that qualify him to head the two-week-old 60-seat smokehouse in Telok Ayer.
Meat Smith is the latest eatery by hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, and aside from specialising in smoked meats, it also has a bar serving craft beers and cocktails.
Says Mr Loh: "I love smoked meats and there is nobody doing it in an authentic American South style at the moment. We had to import our smokers specially for this project... We are looking at doing something that has a broad appeal and that we can do really well. Specialising in meats in particular has allowed us to invest in the equipment, personnel and training to offer something unique like Meat Smith."
On the menu are three main meat dishes: juicy half chicken with an addictively salty house rub ($20), 365-day grain-fed Angus beef brisket ($16 per 100g) and vinegar-brined pork belly ($14 per 100g). It also features three sandwiches - the Nashville fried chicken, pulled pork, and brisket ($8 to $10) - plus a range of starters and sides. (Hint: try the fried okra at $4)
On his cooking technique, chef Baldus explains: "Smoking enhances the flavour and it's about the different woods you can use. Different woods produce a different flavour of smoke, which is good for different kinds of meat. The meat is slow-roasted with off-set heat so it stays really moist as well."
342 Tanjong Katong Road
Open: Tue to Sat 10am-8pm; Sun 10am-6pm; Closed on Mon
Feel like having a piece of steak without the hassle of cooking and cleaning, or putting on pants and going to a nice steakhouse? Perhaps you might prefer to pick up a raw piece at Tanjong Katong Road's new butchery, Meat Collective, and take a 20m stroll down the road to have it cooked for you.
"It's why we're called a collective," says Meat Collective's founder Simon Chee, 43. He has teamed up with Mojo Burps - a nearby Western bar and grill - so customers can buy his steaks and take them to the eatery to have them cooked for $8 per person, inclusive of two sides.
For example, if you purchase 300g of chilled Australia wagyu ribeye steak with marbling grade five at $8.30 per 100g at Meat Collective, you can have it grilled at Mojo Burps and the whole meal will cost you $32.90.
It's all part of Mr Chee's mission to give people more access to affordable high-quality meats. In fact, down the road, he also intends to collaborate with more nearby eateries, so his customers have options on where they want their meat cooked.
He says: "I was a consumer before, and I personally couldn't find good cuts of meat at a relatively cheap price. So I started Meat Collective, where people can find out what they're paying for because our pricing and quality are transparent."
The other reason for starting the business is that he simply loves his meats, adds Mr Chee. "I have a passion for meats, especially beef... Meat is just like wine, there are different cuts, different grades, and they come from different countries. Each meat tastes very different and distinct. Just compare grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef - they have two very different flavours altogether."
Both he and co-founder Daniel Tan, 40, had little experience as butchers, but that did not discourage them from opening the doors to their butchery in mid-December.
Now, the pair specialise in chilled affordable high-quality meats like certified Angus beef, wagyu and kurobuta from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States. They also carry a selection of seafood and other imported produce.
Ultimately, though, it's clear that it's the meats that Mr Chee takes most seriously. "My favourite is the USDA prime certified Angus beef ($6.60 per 100g)," he says. "There's a difference between the certified Angus beef and black Angus beef that most people don't know about.
"I think knowledge is important - you need to know your products and be able to tell your customer where it's from. That's why every meat that comes into the shop we will cook and taste it ourselves. I think that's extremely important in this business."
THE BUSINESS TIMES