The squid, sweet corn and paprika is a little disconnected
Overall rating: 3½ out of 5 stars
Must eats: Smoked quail eggs, any fish dish
What a magical start.
The smoked quail eggs ($6) flecked with sea salt broke open with the fatty yellow liquid. Our tongues couldn't help but playfully swirl the bouncy balloons, pierce through its veil of light smoke to dive into its core of unaltered flavour. We did that five times over, each as fun as the last.
After two dinners at Burnt Ends, we've learnt: let all expectations go, and trust Australian chef David "Dave" Pynt (formerly of Burnt Enz pop-up in East London, UK and Asador Etxebrri, Spain) to his grill and roast magic, at least when it comes to the above starter and fish. The jury is, however, still out on the consistency of his meats.
Past the tall wooden doors of this bar-seat-mainly restaurant (18, to be exact; plus a seven-seater in the back), the elements are stacked all over, and strategically.
“Left side blazing, right side tamed; the bright-eyed silver-skinned sardines the size of daggers were cooked to taste like they are a delicate cross between smoked – 10 per cent, we estimated – and steamed."
The centrepiece of Loh Lik Peng and Mavis Oei's latest collaboration (and step to their 'Keong Saik Takeover') with Andre Chiang of Restaurant Andre is the custom-made twin-'engine' ceramic-glazed oven that goes up to over 800 degrees Celsius. Its chimney breathes fire fuelled by oak and applewood chips, the flames dance to the medium-decibel hipster soundtrack of alternative, indie, pop, and old-meets-new. Left side blazing, right side tamed; this is the main cooking 'appliance' in which the fresh sardines with green sauce ($16) firms up, cheese melts and smoked into both halves of the house-made brioche buns for the Burnt Ends Sanger ($20), and the skin of their John Dory ($220 for five to share) grills to a skillful crunch.
As expected, the focus on the oven can be brilliant, yet also sticky.
The sardines lured us easily from the hypnotic chimney: bright-eyed silver-skinned fish the size of daggers cooked to taste like they were a delicate (we hope deliberate) cross between smoked – 10 per cent, we estimated – and steamed. There were no shortcomings in the use of the verdurous chopped parsley, chives, chervil, oil and lemon juice sauce either. Pynt let the natural flavours lush up in this meaty small plate.
The Burnt Ends Sanger was good: smoke-kissed shreds of pulled pork shoulder, a slightly spicy chipotle aioli, jalapeno pickles and coleslaw made for even, though not addictive, messy bites. The brioche remained soft until the end, as did our desire to come back for more of this dish.
The onglet, bone barrow and pickled walnut ($14 per 100g) was a hit and miss. When we first went, it was just right. The second time, it was over in doneness, dressed with too thin a sauce. Lacking, too, was the crisp-skinned tender suckling pig ($65 for two to share) that was missing depth in flavour. It was served with a crunchy yet insipid fennel salad.
The whole John Dory served plain, with fennel and green sauce was, however, impeccable; the moist meat came apart beautifully on first stab, and required nothing more than a morsel of fennel and sliver of its crisp skin as accompaniment. We went in for the cheek, of course, where it's most tender. Not the same tenderness can be said of the disconnected squid, sweet corn and paprika ($16).
Least impressive were the lone cocktail on the menu, and the desserts. The cocktail of Mezcal with wild hibiscus syrup and a dash of soda ($18) tasted like sparkling Ribena. Best stick to its carefully curated small Scotch-dominated spirits offering, and world-encompassing wine list. Props for offering a Dom Jean Foillard Morgon Beaujolais Cru by the glass ($15).
“Though the last dish didn't get better with the subsequent spoonfuls (we tried), Burnt Ends, on the whole, does."
The caramel ice cream and banana ($8) demonstrated just how far one should not go with the grill: we'd have liked Pynt to remove the banana from the heat before it was grilled to near-mush. We're also still attempting to get the washed-out-ashtray-slash-medical-shop-herbs taste of the smoked ice cream (with wild hibiscus and ginger biscuits, $10) out of our memory bank – a little, it seems, goes too long a way.
Though the last dish didn't get better with the subsequent spoonfuls (we tried), Burnt Ends, on the whole, does.
Yes, you will walk out smelling a little of smoke; and yes, they might never nail every dish – though we're hopeful they'll prove us wrong. But (good) sparks do fly in here; the daily-changing menu is merely one detail in this spontaneous hearth of a restaurant. Make like their wet cheese cloth and soak up the smoky buzz this joint has retained since its opening.
You'll be glowing by the time you're done at Burnt Ends, and you'd want to tip them much more than their non-existent service charge.
Burnt Ends | Address: 20 Teck Lim Road | Tel: 62243933 | Opening hours: Mon-Sat 6pm-midnight
Celine Asril is guilty of taking pictures before tucking in to all her meals; it’s a (good) hazard of the job – this editor of HungryGoWhere never sits down to two of the same meals in a week. Need proof? Follow her work twitter feed at @HungryGoWhere.