New eateries fire up their grills
COOKING techniques have evolved since mankind's early days of cooking meat over an open fire, but there must be something about this way of grilling meat that makes it popular even today.
Newly opened Japanese restaurant Tburu has dedicated prime entrance space to a glass grill room, so diners can see their food being cooked and smell it. "Singaporeans like their grilled items," says owner Calvin Yeung.
Half the menu at Tburu is grilled meats, the other being sushi and sashimi. While grilling exotic chicken parts is common in yakitori eateries, Tburu prides itself on more unusual offerings such as pig intestines and ears.
Restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, who is behind the highly successful Bincho and Meat Smith, both of which have grilled meats, says: "The popularity of grills taps into an atavistic mode of eating. There's nothing quite like charred meat and vegetables and flames." As it turns out, it seems to be the cooking method du jour.
Back to basics
FYR Cycene Ond Drinc
19 Boon Tat Street
Mon to Fri, 11am to 11pm; Sat, 9am to 11pm; Sun, 9am to 4pm
FYR Cycene Ond Drinc may be old English for "Fire Kitchen and Drink" but how do the modern English pronounce it?
You can call it FYR or "fire" in the meantime - the name was picked to reflect the simplicity of ancient times, and the restaurant's rustic decor attests to that. Food-wise, what can be as simple as cooking meat over fire?
But this is the 21st century, where we have cutlery. At FYR, instead of rubbing sticks together to create a fire for cooking, the food here is cooked in a Josper charcoal oven.
The oven is a highly rated machine which is a combination of grill and oven. Due to its unique closed barbecue design and different levels of grilling, it is 35 per cent faster and consumes about 40 per cent less charcoal than an open grill. It uses less flames, which prevents food from drying out or burning.
FYR executive director Rosy Aziz says: "We love the concept of keeping things simple and real. Personally, we feel that we need to be in touch again with the basics, and find tonnes of joy in it."
She adds: "Grilling was done in olden times when people would cook all their food over a fire made with chunks of wood. So, this gave us the inspiration to come up with the name FYR (used centuries ago and the etymology of the word "fire") and the concept of serving modern European grills. And, most importantly, grilled foods are flavourful."
Only lychee wood is used for the grills. Executive chef Micail Chepi says this gives the dishes a "wonderful smoky note that is tinged with sweetness".
Another reason for using lychee wood is that it can be found only in Asia, and "is cohesive with our concept of modern European-style cuisine with South-east Asian herbs and spices", says chef Chepi, formerly from The Royal Mail and Prive.
Thai basil, lemongrass, chilli padi and laksa leaves are just some of the ingredients that have found their way into the menu.
On the grilled front, there's the Five-spice Half Chicken, Striploin, Asian-spiced Tiger Prawn ($55), which is good for sharing. At a tasting, the chicken was on the dry side, but the striploin and prawn made up for it. Those who prefer something less heavy will like the Spiced Deboned Red Snapper ($25), served with sambal belacan.
The Whole Maine Lobster ($55) arrives at the table with its meat still succulent and sweet, and comes topped with a shallot and lemongrass bechamel sauce.
Even the drinks have not been spared the grill. Order a fruit juice, and you can expect the bartender to have grilled the fruit first before juicing, giving the drink a slightly smoky flavour.
"The act of grilling makes food look and taste fantastic," says chef Chepi. "Besides, it's generally a healthier choice compared to fried foods because there's no batter coating or dripping grease."
Casual backyard dining
31 Ah Hood Road
Home TeamNS-JOM Clubhouse, #01-07
Tues to Sun, 11am to 3pm, 5.30pm to 10.30pm; closed on Mon and last Tues of the month
Fix Grill is not one of those restaurants that try to impress you with their fancy grills, beef that has been aged in a certain way or even the kind of charcoal it uses. Instead, chef-owner Mervyn Phan says: "It is back-to-basics cooking, like going for a barbecue at East Coast Park."
The grill concept also fits in well with the restaurant's location - in a clubhouse off Balestier Road.
For now, the restaurant offers grilled items cooked over a stone grill in the kitchen. But in about a week's time, it will have an outdoor grill area. When ready, there will be outdoor seating and a specially constructed grill area, where the cooking will take place. It is all very casual, much like going into someone's backyard, which is how chef Phan intends it to be.
He uses two types of charcoal, but admits not knowing what they are. "The aunty whom I bought the charcoal from doesn't know what to call them either," he quips. All he knows is that one type burns fast, while the other burns more slowly. Mixing the two creates an extra smoky flavour. The charcoal shop is near his restaurant.
Chef Phan is now working on a menu, and it will have staples such as grilled chicken wings with spicy mayo sauce, and grilled tuna fillet with mango salsa and mushrooms. To jazz up the menu, there will also be seasonal items such as grilled Madagascar prawns or even a whole snapper.
"It all depends on what I can get fresh from the market that morning," he says. The outdoor grill will operate on Fridays and weekends, and if there is demand, Chef Phan will fire it up on other days as well.
For now, diners can get their grilled fix on the existing menu, such as the Squid with Wild Rice Salad ($8) that has grilled squid as its main ingredient. Skewer choices range from Beef Keftedes, which are Greek-style beef meatballs topped with yogurt, to the grilled house-made Prawn Cake. The assorted skewer platter is available for $25.
Chef Phan - who also runs Grub cafe, Grub Noodle Bar and Fix Cafe - says he's always wanted a restaurant where he can go back to "the simple stuff. Cooking with charcoal is all about that".
Opus Bar & Grill
581 Orchard Road, Lobby Level, Hilton Singapore
12pm to 2.30pm, 6.30pm to 10.30pm
It's no secret that Aussies love their barbies, so with Aussie chef Nick Philip heading Opus Bar & Grill, you know the grilled meat will be of a certain standard. In fact, chef Philip, who joined Hilton Singapore a few months ago and has worked in Bali, Queensland and Sydney, says: "Being a true Australian, I take grilling very seriously, and love the caramelised, smoky flavours achieved."
Opus Bar & Grill, which takes over the former Checkers Brasserie space, is the first grill in Singapore to have a bespoke Himalayan salt-tiled ageing cabinet, where hand-selected prime meats are dry-aged between 14 and 36 days on the premises for marbled, tender meats with a rich depth of flavour. A full charcoal grill at 250 deg C ensures the white-hot heat sears and creates a delicious, caramelised and smoky flavour.
Meat-wise, there's the lamb rump with pea puree, lamb cutlets with spiced hummus, spicy kurobuta pork belly, and pork back ribs with yakiniku sauce. Of course, steaks are must-haves at a grill restaurant and the selection here includes a Rangers Valley Angus rib marble score four, Kobe wagyu rib-eye marble score six, and Grainge 150 days grain-fed Angus tenderloin and rib-eye. The steaks are served with five different sauces such as soya, ginger and sesame seed glaze or a cep and truffle cream sauce.
Opus also prides itself as being environmentally conscious, being the first restaurant in Singapore to achieve the Marine Stewardship Council's Chain of Custody certification, which means that the seafood comes from a well-managed, sustainable fishery.
THE BUSINESS TIMES